Deep Fry, Sauce, and Rainbow Sweets: The Street Food of Seoul, South Korea

 

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South Korea is a country known for being delicious. Here, the culture of street food is vibrant and colorful, with sprawling street markets such as Gwangjang and Namdaemun bursting with hundreds of stalls of twisted, skewered, and generally intriguing snacks. However, there’s more to the street eats of this colorful nation than kimchi, Korean barbeque, and the tornado potato (yes, they invented it). In Seoul, street vendors will excite and intrigue your taste buds with snacks full of tentacles, spicy sauces, and lots of deep-fry.

Most of the street food you will come across in Seoul will likely be fried. When perusing some of its aforementioned street markets, you’ll likely come across stalls of twigim, the country’s answer to tempura. These batter-fried snacks include vegetables, boiled eggs, and juicy squid (ojingeo twigim). One particularly ubiquitous fried treat is tteok-bokki, small, pillowy rice cakes drenched in gochujang, a popular Korean fermented chili sauce, and sometimes accompanied by boiled egg or noodles. The sauce-slathered cakes also come skewered as tteok-kkochi. Pancakes abound in the likes of pajeon, a scallion pancake served up plain or infused with meat or seafood, and bindae-tteok, a pancake mixed from mung beans, vegetables, and meat.

For weary travelers in search of comfort, indulge in eomuk, fried or boiled fishcakes often served as eomuk tang with a soothing broth (which, by the way, doubles as a folk cure for hangovers). Another soul-warming snack is gyeran-ppang, an adorable bread loaf with a whole egg baked in it (these two are, by the way, among the most budget-friendly treats, in case you may have spent a wee bit too much at that clothing stall back there). Another dish that will warm your soul is mandu, Korean dumplings filled with pork and a variety of different flavorings (yes, kimchi included). They come fried, boiled with noodles and soup, or steamed as buns called jjinppang mandu.

If you’re in need of something light and refreshing, pick up some rolls of kimbap, Korean sushi. Kimbap is wrapped with seaweed and stuffed with pickled veggies, egg, meat, surimi, and the like. On the street they come in delicate wheels or finger-sized rolls, the latter of which is affectionately called mayak (“drug”) kimbap for its addictive properties. Those streets also yield many meaty treats. Dak-kkochi are chicken skewers grilled with scallions and covered with your choice of sauce. Sundae is a blood sausage stuffed with glass noodles and spices, sometimes dished up with a side of lung and liver slices; another incarnation of the sausage is the gamja hotdog, a skewered corndog fried with a thick coat of French fries. And, for the adventurous appetite, seek out beongdegi, crunchy, juicy, steamed silkworm larvae.

But, of course, sometimes all you need is a handful of desert. One street pastry that brightened up many a Korean childhood is bungeoppang, a fish-shaped bread filled with red bean paste. Modern takes on this classic treat fill the fish with custard, turn it into a cone for heaping ice cream, or even make it out of croissant dough. Another classic treat is hotteok, a pancake filled with sizzling brown sugar syrup and occasionally nuts. For the fearless sweet toothes among us, the longffle is a plank-sized waffle loaded with a bright rainbow of ice cream, syrup, and sprinkles. Lighter treats include cotton candy, sold in gigantic rolls or small balls dyed in delicate candy colors and shaped like flowers, ducks, and animal faces. And then there’s bbopki, lollipops made with sugar and baking soda and stamped with a cute shape in the middle. If you can eat around the shape without breaking it, some sellers will give you another for free. Which should really be a rule with all the foods above, if we’re being honest here.

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