The hype of the Hallyu culture especially focused on Korean pop groups and idols has landed its way even in our own country wherein almost everyone is familiar with the term “oppa” which is used by many as a term of endearment for a cute guy, even if he’s not Korean. Aside from this, South Korea has a lot more to offer, and I was a witness to them when I traveled there a few months ago. ( January 2018 lol )
As a foodie myself, one part of the Korean culture that I am most captivated with is their street food culture, not much similar with our own street food, but still, I can say that I am deeply in love with both.
The busy streets and bustling alleys of Myeongdong and Dongdaemun have led me to my most diverse and adventurous food trip yet. So here are 10 South Korean street food that you should try, most of them are already served in Korean fast food and restaurants in the Philippines.
- Chapchae. Not to lambast the uniqueness of this Korean street food, but Chapchae or Japchae seems similar to the Filipino pancit. This common party food in Korea is composed of stir-fried glass noodles mixed with vegetables. The name comes from the words jap which means “mix” and chae which means “vegetable.” I like how Chapchae’s noodles are cooked not too hard, but also not too soggy.
- Korean pancake. In Korea, it is called Buchimgae, the general term for any pan-fried ingredients soaked in egg or a batter mixed with other ingredients. They also have the Pajeon which is a Korean scallion pancake which can be mixed with carrots, mushroom, zucchini, and other vegetables. It is a typical appetizer or a side dish in a Korean meal. The usual Korean pancake is a savory take on the common sweet pancake we usually encounter.
- Sweet Korean pancake. This is similar to the pancake we are familiar with, and is called Hotteok in Korean. It is usually crispy outside while the inside is filled with sweet gooey sugar syrup. For someone which has a sweet tooth, this takes sweetness to a next level, and is indeed a must-try.
- Gyoza. This is more of a Japanese food than a Korean food, but the Koreans have their own fried dumplings which they call Mandu. Gyoza, in Japan, is their version of the dumplings which can be served either steamed or fried. The Korean version Mandu is similar which is stuffed with a mixture of meat and/or vegetables. It is often prepared by families as part of their Korean Lunar New Year festivities, and is considered a symbol of good luck for the coming year.
- Fresh-picked strawberries. With fresh strawberries considered part of the Korean street food culture, it was as if I missed our very own Baguio when I went to South Korea. These red berries can be seen neatly wrapped in transparent packages. There is also a popular Korean street food called DdaliGi (strawberry) SaTang (hard candy) which is made from fresh strawberries coated with melted sugar.
- Takoyaki. This is commonly known as a Japanese snack, but it is called Odeng in South Korea. It is a ball-shaped snack made out of a wheat flour-based batter and is cooked in a molded pan. The mixture is composed of minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. This street food has already made its way to different food establishments in the Philippines, but having a taste of the Takoyaki in South Korea made the experience a little better and exotic.
- Chicken Karaage. The Japanese also have their own twist of the famous fried chicken, the Chicken Karaage, which is also a part of South Korean street food culture. The fried chicken is made by marinating small pieces of chicken in sake, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic before coating them in potato starch. Aside from the rich flavor from spices, what’s great with the Chicken Karaage is its bite-size pieces which you can easily munch, and from then on, you start craving for more, not resisting every bite of the flavorful and juicy chicken.
- Strawberry Moji. Another Japanese food which made it to the Korean street food scene is the Strawberry Moji/Mochi which is basically strawberry inside a soft and chewy mochi. Sweet red bean paste can also be seen inside the mochi which balanced the sweet-sour taste of strawberry and the blandness of the mochi.
- Bibimbap. This is one of the most famous Korean food in the Philippines aside from the celebrated Samgyupsal and Kimchi. The word Bibimbap means “mixed rice”, and it is served in a bowl with warm white rice topped with sautéed and spiced vegetables, chili pepper paste, soy sauce, and soybean paste. What completes this amazing dish is a raw or fried egg and sliced meat (usually beef). Mixing all of these is a must.
- Chili Ricecake (Tteok-Bokki). Among everything in this list, the Tteok-Bokki is one of my personal favorites, and is one of the most famous street food in South Korea. It is made of white cylinder-shaped rice cakes, fish cakes, with a spicy chili paste-based sauce. This is commonly sold in snack bars and street stalls in South Korea. This has been well-endorsed by Korean fast food and restaurants here in the Philippines.
Exploring around the streets of South Korea to taste the food they offer somehow gave me a glimpse of what South Korean street food culture is, and see how food has been used in spreading and influencing one’s culture and tradition. Aside from the aesthetically-pleasing photos of landscapes and structures, I see the food culture as something that gives me a pass to the heart of South Korea. Food tell different stories as it can be seen how the South Koreans adapt Japanese food, and incorporate it in their own set of street food.
Now, with the fast-paced integration of nations and cultures, the future of the Philippines and South Korea will not just be based on the usual Korean pop culture, but also with the Korean food gradually seeping into our own food establishments in the country.