The basic formula for street food is to mix counter-intuitive flavors, fry a lot, involve skewers at some point, cook it quickly, and make it as messy as possible to eat. So whether you discovered the best Korean street food on Netflix (the Seoul episode) or you tried at the local Adventist potluck, your tongue was probably intrigued. Let’s look at some of the top streetside contenders.
1. Mayaki Kimbap – Seaweed Rice Wraps
In Seoul, there seems to be a mix-up between ‘G’ and ‘K’. For example, Gwanjang is sometimes spelled Kwanjang and kimbap is sometimes called gimbap. This sashimi-looking dish is made by rolling up rice, carrots, and radishes in seaweed and garnishing with sesame seeds.
It’s commonly called mayak (which means ‘drug’ or ‘narcotic’) because you can’t stop at just one. They’re quite addictive, you’re likely to gobble a whole plate. They’re best enjoyed with a wasabi dipping sauce and have a crisp, crunchy texture thanks to the carrots and chunky rice bits.
2. Myeon – Noodle Soup
Noodles are pretty much a staple of Asian cooking, and that includes street food. Seoul’s food markets serve a variety of noodle styles. These include uneven, hand-cut noodles (sujebi). These fishy noodle soups are often served with clams and raw green chili in a vegetable broth.
Or you could try black noodles (jajangmyeon), served with a sauce of sweet beans (gochujang), pork, and veggies. It was initially for ‘Singles Day’ on April 14th where people dresses in black and ate black food as a sort of anti-valentine, but it’s served year-round as street food.
You could also try thick, translucent/transparent glass noodles (japchae). They’re made of sweet potatoes and are served cold with a mild chili sauce. The soup also has sesame oil and sometimes a boiled egg. Finally, you can try the famous kalguksu – knife-cut noodles in soup.
A good entry point to Korean street chicken is dakkochi – skewered grilled chicken tenders in a spicy marinade. Other variants include yangnyeom tongdak, chimaek, or dakgangjeon – spicy popcorn-styles chicken nugget tenders coated in sesame seeds, honey sauce, peanuts, garlic, and chili flakes. This popcorn-style chicken is fried with its skin and served with fries and rice cakes.
4. Sikhye – Rice Drinks
The best Korean street food is spicy. It often has a base of bland or neutral noodles and various meats coated in chili sauce. To offset the spice, street food is often accompanied by a rice drink like sweet rice water (sikhye), bottles makgeolli, or tiny bottled drinks similar to Yakult. These yogurt-like beverages are flavored fermented milk drinks. Apple and banana are top choices.
5. Eomuk – Fish Cake
You’ll probably find this under its more common Japanese name, Odeng. It’s a type of skewered fish cake shaped like a squiggle. The fish cake is made from a paste of fish flakes, rice wine, flour, and spices. Deep-fried eomuk with ketchup and mustard is better than hair of the dog.
The cake – made from fish paste – is served with a soup called Eomuk Tang, Eomuk Guk, or Odeng Guk. The soup is often offered for free to accompany spicy dishes, even if you don’t order the fish cake. Eomuk Tang has a faint rice taste and a far-off fruity flavor to counter chili.
6. Tteokbokki – Rice Cakes
These cylindrical stir-fried rice cakes are cooked in a red chili sauce (gochujang) and served in a bowl. But they can also be skewered and served as tteokkochi. The sauce is sweet but spicy and the rice cakes are soft and chewy. They’re routinely eaten with fish cakes, though the dish was originally called tteok jjim and braised with meat and eggs as a royal meal.
7. Hodu Gwaja – Walnut Cookie
Originally invented in Cheonan (1934), these cookies are all walnut, all the time. It’s a walnut shell made of thin walnut batter and filled with … walnuts. The filling also has sweet paste made from red beans. They’re still considered a local specialty in their region of origin.
8. Mandu – Dumplings
This Asian staple is a must-try. They come steamed or deep-fried, chewy or crisp, veggie or meat, ocean-worm shaped or flower-folded. The variety is endless. In Korea, kimchi dumplings are particularly popular. Even the pork dumplings will often have kimchi in them. Dumplings can be crunchy (fried) or gelatinous (steamed) on the outside while the filling is deliciously crumbly.
9. Bindaetteok – Hash Brown
It’s not quite a hash brown, but that’s the most recognizable approximation. This pancake is made from mung beans that are constantly ground behind the counter to form a batter. The beans are mixed with kimchi and sometimes with very little ground meat – Koreans prefer the meat ratio in their bindaetteok low. It’s crisp and greasy, served with soy sauce and vinegar.
10. Hotteok – Korean Donuts / Chinese Pancakes
You’ll find hotteok variously described, but it’s a stuffed, fried pastry that can be savory or sweet. The sweet versions are filled with a gooey mix of sugar and sesame sauce. Some stalls add nuts and cinnamon. The savory ones are generally filled with red bean paste, sweet potato, or glass noodles. They differ from bindaetteok because they’re stuffed. They can be baked or fried.
11. Soondae – Blood Sausage
Lots of cultures have a version of this dish. South Africans call it boerewors. Kenyans call it mutura. The Scots call it haggis. Koreans call it soondae. It’s a type of sausage stuffed with pork, mung beans, noodles, and seasonings. The stuffing is encased and steamed, served with spicy sauce and chili powder. It has a chewy consistency, so try a small piece first to see if you like it.
12. Banchan / Bansang – Raw Side Dishes
Banchan is usually served as a sort of buffet with a variety of sauces. Crab is a popular choice at bansang stalls and is usually eaten raw. If you’re not too squeamish, try the soy-marinated crab with its gooey orange roe. The crab is marinated in soy sauce and orange slices for at least 24 hours and sometimes rice is served inside the crab shell. You can also try chili marinade crab.
13. Yukhoe – Raw Sliced Beef
When you first spot this dish, you may be wowed by all the colors. Bright red beef strips topped with raw egg yolk with white pear strips tucked underneath. The protein-packed in this dish is a bodybuilder’s dream, but dip it in sauce first to make all that ‘rareness’ more palatable. The most common sauce for this dish is sesame sauce or sometimes plain unfiltered sesame oil.
14. Baffle – Rice Burger Waffle
Yes, it looks like a burger while it’s cooking, but the ‘b’ is actually for ‘bop’ which means rice. It’s a popular patented dish from Grilled Fish Street or Grilled Fish Alley at Dongdaemun Market. This dish starts with a batter of cabbage and leftover rice, then follows with bacon and a fried egg.
She sometimes ass shrimp. These are baked to form a crispy stuffed bun on a flattened muffin pan. The bun then goes into a noddle cup where it’s cut into 4 pieces, topped with garlic sauce, chili sauce, milk sauce, fish flakes, and seaweed powder. Wear a bib or a napkin – it stains!
15. Gyeran-ppang / Gyeran bbang – Egg Bread
Koreans seem to like their eggs sunny-side up, whether they’re raw, boiled, poached, or baked. In this dish, unbeaten eggs, cheese, ham, parsley, and toppings are baked in a small oven pan and served fresh and preferably warm. It’s a bit like an egg cup or muffin cup, sweet and salty. It’s sure to entice your eyes, but it can be heavy, so get some soup or flavored milk to go with it.
16. Tokkebi / Gamja – Korean Corndog
The health food world agrees that grease is evil. So it makes sense these devilishly delicious deep-fried goodies would be nicknamed after a mythical evil Korean trickster. These tokkebi or gamja are Korean hot dogs immersed in hot oil, coated in French fries, and served on a stick. The fries are cut into bits or cubes, and the corndog is also sometimes coated in a sauce or crushed noodles.
17. Jeon – Pancakes
This is among the most beloved, diverse, and best Korean street food. These aren’t stuffed, but they’re fluffy because they often use bean flour as a base. The ingredients are mixed into the batter rather than stuffed like hotteok. Some types include yukjeon (beef shreds), kimchijeon (kimchi), guljeon (oysters), and pajeon (eggs and green onions). Best enjoyed with salad or soy sauce dip.
18. Boong-Uh-Ppang / Bungeoppang – Fish Pastries
Odeng / Eomuk is a fish paste cake on a stick. Bungeoppang is a goldfish-shaped pastry stuffed apple or mango mush. It may also be filled with red bean paste. It’s a flaky sort of pie with croissant-y texture. The baking batter contains sugar, flour, water, and eggs. The dish is baked. You can buy a commercial ‘ice cream’ version of bungeoppang with red bean filling if you prefer.
19. Sannakji – Baby Octopus
Some people like caviar. Others prefer baby tentacles. Sannakji is sometimes marketed as ‘live octopus’ in the sense that seafood is cooked without killing it. This prevents food poisoning because shellfish almost instantly, so it’s often immersed alive into boiling water. Sannakji is eaten raw, dipped in chili, sesame oil, soy sauce, or ssamjang. And yes, it wiggles on your plate.
20. Beondegi – Silkworm Pupae
If you’re not put off by wriggly food, you may be enticed by this popular street dish. They are the pupa stage of silkworms, so they’re like little insect ‘hatchlings’ inside a cocoon. These pupae started as a wartime dish but are still beloved for their snackiness and high protein content. Beondegi is steamed or boiled, seasoned, and served in a noodle cup. It’s sometimes canned.
21. Mochi / Chapssal Donut Holes
At home, you cut holes into donuts. In the past, these holes were sometimes the natural result of rising yeast. At shops and bakeries, they generally spray the batter in a circle and make the holes separately. But as one of the best Korean street foods, these chapssal donut holes are deep-fried and sometimes stuffed with nutella. They’re made from rice flour, just like mochi.
22. Hweori Gamja – Tornado Potato
Americans have curly fries. Korean street markets have hweori gamja. The potato is sliced into a thin continuous coil, deep-fried to a crisp, and served on a skewer with seasonings, dips, and sauces. These spiced potato swirls come in lots of variants including cheese, barbeque, and salt.
23. Jokbal – Pig Trotters
No, it’s not just in the south where they love their pork grits. In South Korea, pig feet or pig’s trotters are a popular street dish. The feet are braised or stewed with spices and rice wine. Try eating is as a ssam or lettuce wrap. It’s a heavy, greasy dish, often served with soju, a local liquor.
24. Street Desserts
Lots of the best Korean street food options are sweet. But do serve signature dessert dishes like the fish-shaped waffle or cane ice cream, a kind of ‘ice cream cone’ shaped like a cane and made of rice flour. This j-shaped rice cracker is then filled with soft-serve ice cream. Or you could also try patbingsu – a sort of sundae that combines shaved ice, red beans, rice cakes, and syrup.
The last item on our list is considered controversial by some because it’s basically a generic fritter. Twigim is a catch-all name for various Korean street foods that are coated in batter, deep-fried, and served on a stick. It’s a bit like tempura, and the base of the dish could be a boiled egg, sweet potatoes, vegetables, seafood – anything you can coat, fry, and enjoy with a spicy dip.
Even if you’re not looking to travel to South Korea, there’s probably a vibrant local scene where you live. What are the best street foods in your area? Show us some of them in the comments!