You don’t have to go far to taste the flavors of Seoul – they’re right there on the streets. A staple of the city’s culinary scene, street food offers everything from traditional fish cakes and pancakes to out-of-the-ordinary treats like corndogs wrapped in French fries, or stuffed waffles topped with ice cream. Whether it’s savoury snacks or sweet surprises, the streets of Seoul are sure to satisfy.
Here are some tips to help you enjoy street food like a local. When you’re ready to really dig in, check out these hotels in Seoul.
Street food 101
It’s simple: walk up to a street food cart and point to something that looks tasty. In moments you can be sinking your teeth into a deep-fried dumpling, spicy rice cakes (pictured above), or a cup filled with fried chicken bites, potatoes and cheese.
At most carts, you’ll pay for your food and be on your way, but there is an exception: the carts that sell deep-fried snacks called twigeum. Here, it’s customary to eat at the cart’s counter. You can order more snacks between cups of the free fish cake broth, and you pay when you’ve finished eating.
Street food carts are typically cash only. Some have a jar for money, but with most you pay the cook directly. It’s not customary to leave a tip.
For hearty savoury bites, head to the nearest twigeum cart. Take time to savour the salty crunch of the crispy batter that coats tender deep-fried shrimp, octopus and dumplings (pictured above).
Look out for local favourite ddokbokki – rice cakes in spicy, red sauce. The spices help to wake up your tastebuds, while the chewy rice cakes provide the balance.
Barbecued meats are another Korean staple, in restaurants and at street carts. While you’re in town, be sure to grab a couple of dalkggochi, or chicken skewers, to snack on between meals.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, try soondae, or blood sausage. Not for the faint of heart, soondae is made of boiled intestines (typically from a pig or cow) stuffed with noodles, various vegetables, and pig’s blood. If seafood is your style, look for carts with dried squid, octopus and fish hanging up – you’ve never had jerky quite like this.
There’s plenty out there to satisfy your sweet tooth too. Breakfast waffles are filled with whipped cream, ice cream, fresh fruit and sauces, folded in half and served like a taco. Large, thin crepes rolled into even bigger cones make a convenient and filling grab-and-go snack.
Traditional egg bread, or gyeran-bbang is most popular during the winter. It’s easy to spot as the small, vanilla-flavoured breads are topped with a baked egg.
The sweet dessert pastry known as bungeoppang, or fish bread (pictured above), is a photo-worthy find. Don’t let the name fool you: there’s no fish in it whatsoever. Instead, the pastry takes its name from the mould that the batter is cooked in. The final result is a fish-shaped parcel filled with sweet red bean paste, and a must-try.
Finally, for a real sugar rush, look for sweet hotteok pancakes filled with warm, brown sugar syrup, another winter staple that’s sure to keep you going.
Seoul’s street food offers some more quirky snacks, too, like the ‘Tornado Potato’ (pictured above), a long skewer featuring a spiralised potato dusted in cheese powder. Don’t be surprised if there’s a sausage in the middle.
“Chicken in a Cup” mixes mounds of fried chicken bites with rice cake, potatoes, and a sweet, spicy red sauce. All drizzled with tangy ketchup or spicy mustard.
And don’t miss beondegi, or steamed silkworm larvae. They’re eaten much like you would eat popcorn – even though they don’t look like popcorn. If you’re feeling brave, look for large pots filled with small, flat brown bugs, about the size of a jelly bean.
Do it like the Koreans do: grab a cupful, find the nearest park and take a stroll under the trees to enjoy the fresh air.
Where to go
Now you’re ready to eat like a local, but where’s the best place to start? You never have to walk far to find street food in Seoul, but there are some places that are worth a trip.
The modern Myeongdong district is a sprawling, foreigner-friendly shopping area that’s perfect for your first time. You can try everything from deep-fried snacks to a tornado potato or barbecue skewers.
Head for the Namdaemun outdoor market not far from Myeongdong to find more unusual dishes that are perfect for adventurous palates.
All that’s left now is to hit the street and start eating.