Some of the best culinary delights in Seoul can be found on the street carts lining almost every street in the city - here is a selection to whet your appetite
Seoul is a modern and vibrant city with more than enough exciting restaurants and eateries to satisfy its 12 million inhabitants.
However, some of the best culinary delights can be found on the street food carts lining almost every street and corner in the city. Korean street food carts or pojanmacha (covered wagons) serve up quick, tasty and cheap snacks every day of the year. Approach any street food cart and your senses are bound to be overwhelmed with choice when confronted with the many colours, smells and tastes on offer. Here is just an assortment of the wonderful street snacks that are widely available in Seoul:
Odeng is available at almost every street food cart you come across. One might wonder how the vendors can possibly all make a living selling odeng if it is available everywhere. However, each vendor will have their own safely guarded recipe for their unique odeng and you will be hard pushed to taste exactly the same concoction twice. Odeng is basically a fish cake made with fish and wheat flour which is usually threaded onto a stick and boiled in a flavoursome broth. The skewered fish cakes are then served along with a cup of hot broth and free broth refills are the norm.
You simply cannot miss tteokbokki thanks to its almost neon shade of orange. Like odeng, tteokbokki is a standard snack option at most pojanmacha. Tteokbokki is a rice cake stew covered in a sticky, spicy and sweet sauce. Again, each vendor has their own unique recipe for tteokbokki but popular ingredients for the stew include red peppers, onions and of course the chewy, bite size rice cakes. Often vendors will add ramen (noodles) or dumplings to the stew to make it even more interesting. It is usually served in a small paper bowl or cup lined with a plastic food bag. If it is too spicy, you can always mix some of the savoury odeng broth in with it to cool it down a bit.
Dakkochi, or grilled chicken skewers, are widely available from street food carts throughout Seoul. Sometimes dakkochi are available on large carts alongside various other snacks but more often than not you will find whole carts solely dedicated to the tasty skewers. Dakkochi are glazed with various marinades and sauces including spicy chilli, soy sauce and sweet, sticky barbeque flavours. Many tourists choose dakkochi as their introduction to Korean street food simply because it resembles familiar barbeque grub. They cost around 50 pence each so rather than waste time deliberating you might be better simply ordering one of each – they are all delicious.
Kimbap is the ultimate in fast food. It is available everywhere ranging from specialist kimbap restaurants, to corner shops to, of course, the street food carts. Kimbap may look like sophisticated sushi rolls but there is nothing remotely pretentious about this snack. Kimbap is basically steamed rice rolled in roasted seaweed sheets. Various other ingredients are incorporated in the tasty rolls such as shredded carrot, cooked egg, cucumber, pickled radish, tuna and even spam. They are light and convenient but a surprisingly filling snack when on the go.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this snack should be included in the dessert section but this is not the case. Sundae is in actual fact a form of Korean sausage made from the intestines of pigs. The skin of the intestines is packed with an array of ingredients including pig’s blood, onions, garlic and thin glass noodles. The ‘sausage’ is then steamed and sliced. Sundae is usually mixed with slices of pig’s liver and eaten from paper cups with toothpicks. It is also becoming popular for street vendors to mix tteokbokki sauce through the offal mixture to add some spice and heat to the dish.
After sampling some of these delightful savoury snacks you might wish to venture into dessert territory and visit one of the many street food carts that specialise in sweet Korean delicacies. Here’s a small selection of tasty treats for those with a sweet tooth:
Hotteok is a filled pancake made from a mixture of glutinous rice flour and wheat flour. These pancakes are stuffed with a sweet concoction that consists of brown sugar and black sesame seed paste. Additional ingredients are regularly added to the filling including cinnamon, honey and sometimes walnuts or peanuts. The pancakes are then fried until firm on the outside. Hotteok is then served straight away with a small piece of cardboard to protect your fingers becuase you guessed it – it’s very, very hot. So be careful when taking your first bite of this delicious pancake as the filling will be scrumptious but steaming!
Bbobki is perhaps the original Korean street food dessert and one of the easiest to make. This sweet treat consists of only one ingredient – sugar. So a serious sweet tooth is most definitely required. To make bbobki, vendors simply heat sugar until just boiling and then pour layers into round moulds with thin lolly sticks to provide handles. As the mixture begins to set the vendor uses cookie cutters to stamp a shape in the centre of the mixture. A minute later the round mould is removed and you are left with a giant sugar lolly complete with heart or star shape stamped in the centre. These treats are so easy to make that they are not even really sold on the street food carts. They are usually available from an elderly Korean woman crouched over a camping stove and frying pan.
Yeot is generally made from boiling steamed rice or corn for a long period of time. Eventually the syrup produced during the boiling process produces a very sweet, taffy like dessert. It is usually shaped into large blocks and then chiselled straight from the block when ordered. One of the most popular variations of this treat includes a version in which peanuts are incorporated into the mixture before it solidifies. It is similar to traditional peanut brittle. Tasty, but perhaps not a good idea for those with dentures!
It would be almost impossible not to find a street food to fall in love with in Seoul but it can be overwhelming when trawling the streets and attempting to decide which food cart to sample from, but a word to the wise – go for the one with the longest queue. You can guarantee it has been tried and tested and you will certainly not be disappointed.