1. Pajeon (파전)
The designer green onion Korean pancake will restore your faith in humanity through the power of taste. These savory, spicy delights blend veggies, squid, oysters, shrimp, or clams, to rice, wheat flour and egg. Several unique versions of the original green onion are sold in every possible combination. Pajeon is filling, too, making it a healthy, cheap dinner. Although I recommend keeping floss around after consuming these; those green onions stick between your teeth and make your smile a thing of nightmares.
2. Odeng (오뎅)
One of the most popular snacks throughout the country has an English name that suggests something more bizarre than they are: fish cakes. The soft, mild snacks are blended with wheat flour, onion, carrots and surimi or ground fish paste. They’re shaped into long rectangles and pushed, zigzag, onto a skewer. The “cakes” then soak in an odeng gungmul or fish broth. The hearty broth is delightful on a chilly winter day, and you can drink it for free as you relish the fish-kebabs. It’s all self-serve at the odeng stand and vendors let you consume as many cakes as you want while keeping count of the skewers so you can pay when you’re finished.
3. Teokbokki (떡볶이)
These traditional, zesty rice cakes, sold for KRW 1,000, are made from egg, rice, and gochujang or sweet chili sauce. Teokbokki is often accompanied with a savory blend of cabbage, scallions, garlic and fish cakes or meat, but they’re just as tasty alone. Usually round and rectangular, I’ve seen the cakes shaped into stars and hearts, which make them somehow more palatable. Sold late into the night nearly everywhere on the street, the sometimes-fiery, chewy snack is perfect to line your stomach before or after a night of soju.
4. Gimbap (김밥)
These are often mistaken for sushi, but there’s one big difference: gimbap uses sesame oil to season the rice, which adds a slight sugary flavor. The ingredients are vastly different from those in its Japanese counterpart with combinations like bulgogi and canned tuna, kimchi and spam, and crabmeat, cucumber, carrot, and spinach. Yet,the flavors combine in a surprising, sweet melody. Gimbap makes a perfect hiking snack, and it’s normal to find yourself swapping gimbap combos on a break from the trail with a group of Korean strangers.
5. Sundae (순대)
No, this is not ice cream covered in chocolaty deliciousness; it’s Korean blood sausage. While each region has its own variety of Sundae, one popular variation is a fatty, buttery onion, chili paste, and cabbage topping over a package of dangmyeon — cellophane noodles — with coagulated pig blood. Intestines are the skin holding it all together — kind of like an inverted animal. Take a bottle of soju with you to wash this aggressive meat combination down your gullet.
6. Bungeoppang (붕어빵)
An ambrosial, soothing scent of homemade pancakes accompanies the Bungeoppang or fish bread. It’s not unpalatable; it just has a deceiving name. These warm, crisp pastries are confected with a honey-like batter, shaped with a waffle iron, and filled with either red bean paste or sweet yellow custard. The cute, intricate frame almost makes it difficult to bite into these fresh goodies. But you should and you will because life is too short to not devour delectable, dainty treats that cost KRW 1,000 for five of them.
7. Gamja hot dog (감자핫도그)
Corn-battered hot dogs covered in crunchy French fries exist in this gorgeous world. Much better than the normal, US-made corndog, these dogs are rich, crispy sensations that don’t even need ketchup to make you relish each bite. Make sure they’re fresh, though. No one likes soggy, bread-coated wieners.
8. Ojingeo Twigim (오징어 튀김)
Fried squid is another street delicacy you smell before you see. The pungent peanut oil used to fry the meat gives a kick to the squid’s rubbery, browned flavor. Its presentation is like a fancy bouquet of flowers — the squid’s golden, crackling legs upside down on a paper white-covered skewer.
9. J-shaped ice cream cones
These are filtering into the US now, but this J-shaped ice cream cone started on the streets of Korea. It’s as the name says: ice cream poured into a J-shaped cone. The appeal might be that the dessert incites R-rated thoughts (you perverts) when the ice cream melts and you have to lick the sides of the somewhat phallic shell holding the dessert together.
10. Hotteok (호떡)
This doughy, funnel cake-like, gooey, sensation is all about sticky, sweet syrup on the inside. It’s a griddle-baked crispy pastry filled with cinnamon and brown sugar and topped with pine nuts. There’s so much flavor stuffed into the tiny paper cup when they hand it over, I don’t know how the cup keeps from exploding. I recommend ordering at least two every time you see a vendor.
11. Street cocktails
The name suggests an illicit drug, but in Korea, open container laws are non-existent. Being able to purchase alcoholic sips on the street is a right to every citizen and visitor. The vendors offer an array of options from suggested menus. Enjoy fruity pineapple, mango vodkas, the ever cliché Sex on the Beach, or simple gin and tonics and whiskey sours. Better yet, the booze is served in a bag with a straw — a la Capri Sun — making it easy to swig your beverage while roaming the city.