The streets of Seoul are a sight to behold – a menagerie of dazzling lights, quirky fashion, and good-looking, porcelain-skinned locals. Completing this tableau is the rich selection of mouthwatering street food, and who doesn’t enjoy street food? Not you, hopefully!
As is the case in other cities around the world, street food is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to take a peek into the culinary culture of Seoul.
What’s interesting about Seoul’s street food culture is that, while Korean cuisine is generally regarded as tilting on the “healthier side”, it is common to see nooks filled with carts of deep-fried goodies. Yup, Koreans have a fondness for coating their snacks in light, crispy batter and dunking them in hot, heavenly lard.
Foodies with a sweet tooth will find heaven on earth in the streets of Seoul as sweets and desserts are a common sight. Sweet rice cakes? Check! Red bean snacks? Check! Ice cream? Uhh, Seoul has different kinds, so that’s a bigger check!
Enjoy this guide to the best street food in Seoul and where to get them at the best prices.
Ddeokbokki, or Korean spicy rice cakes, are among the most common street food items in Seoul.
Characterized by a thick, fiery red sauce, these chewy pillows of rice are not for the faint of heart. The assault of flavors starts with a subtle introduction that grows into a full-blown explosion of spices. As you chew along, you wonder if it’s a tad bit too spicy to handle, but then it’s too late because you find yourself already addicted to ddeokbokki.
Ddeokbokki nowadays are commonly prepared by smothering the rice cakes in red sauce but there are still food stalls that prepare it the traditional way – stir fried in a wok and topped with a heaping of chili flakes.
Here are the best places to have ddeokbokki in Seoul.
If you ever find yourself in the streets of Seoul without a plan, here’s a mission you can scroll on your travel journal: binge on odeng. Odeng, or Korean fish cake, is fish paste mixed with starch, flour, rice wine, and seasoned with spices.
The real mission is not just to stuff your mouth with fish cake, but to try the different ways it is prepared.
The most common is skewered odeng submerged in warm, flavorful broth. Something similar but definitely much more filling and potent: served in broth with chopped chilies, green onions, and seasoned with gochujang –a cure for colds and hangovers. Deep-fried odeng is also a tasty find, especially when served with a mustard-ketchup sauce.
Here are the best places to have odeng in Seoul.
Possibly every town or country has its own version of fried chicken, and one of the most-loved across the globe is chi-maek or Korean fried chicken – yes, aka “the other KFC”.
What sets the Korean fried chicken apart from all other fried chicken in the world is the crispy paper-thin skin that shatters at every bite. You can expect chi-maek to be spicy – as is the case of plenty of food in Korea.
The ones sold on the streets of Seoul, however, come with a drizzle of honey-mustard sauce, which brings the spice level down a notch while embracing it in a beautiful cacophony of flavors.
Chi-maek is served in a paper cup along with fried potatoes and rice cake. Make sure to get the bigger cup because it is so addicting, you’ll surely want more.
Here are the best places to have chi-maek in Seoul.
If you’re the conservative type of foodie who needs to get warmed up to foreign flavors, dakkochi, or grilled chicken skewers, is a great way to jumpstart a Korean culinary adventure.
Dakkochi is something familiar yet different – tender pieces of chicken fillet glazed with an assortment of sauces and marinades. Of course, you’re bound to come across sauces so spicy, you’ll be compelled to take a swig of beer – not that you would mind.
Most of Seoul’s street food on a stick is really cheap, and dakkochi is no exception. You can finish a dozen sticks without making a big dent on your day’s street food allowance – and you can easily finish a dozen sticks, mind you.
Here are the best places to have dakkochi in Seoul.
In Korean folklore, tokkebi is a ruthless creature that casts evil spells on mean people. Threats of it were often used to scare misbehaving children who wouldn’t do their homework at night. In Korean street food culture, however, tokkebi is a deep-fried masterpiece of French fry-crusted corndog.
For some reason, Koreans have a deep fascination for hot dogs and sausages that they channel their creativity into coming up with interesting recipes – an excellent product of which is tokkebi. Some vendors bring it up a notch by crusting tokkebi with crushed ramen – or a combination of the two!
If you’re into hotdogs, deep fried batter and French fries, nobody will be able to stop you from getting your hands on this delicious monster.
Here are the best places to have tokkebi in Seoul.
Once upon a time, a wise Korean said, “Those plain pancakes are nice, but I can make them better.” He proceeded to stuffing the pancakes with all kinds of sweet and savory filling, and then Seoul lived happily ever after. Not exactly a historically accurate story, but who’s to say, right?
Hotteok is actually more of a donut than a pancake. It comes in an assortment of sweet and savory variants such as sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, stuffed with red bean paste, ground peanuts, sweet potato, onions, or even japchae – really interesting variants. Hotteok is best eaten fresh off the pan but be careful of the hot, sticky filling that can burn your mouth.
Here are the best places to have hotteok in Seoul.
The tornado potato, one of the trendiest food items to hit the streets recently, traces its origin to Seoul – specifically, Myeongdong. A culinary genius had the inventiveness to skewer a whole potato, lay it out thin, but just the right thinness to allow it to hold salty flavored powder.
If you’ve never seen a tornado potato all your life, imagine a curly fry and a potato chip having a baby living its short life on a barbecue stick.
It was a huge hit that other cities such as Bangkok and Manila and state fairs in America have caught up with the trend. Popular flavors on the streets of Seoul are barbecue, cheese, and plain salted.
Here are the best places to have tornado potato in Seoul.
First things first – don’t get confused when locals offer you “soondae” or sometimes even “sundae” and you get served something totally different from that sweet, cold treat.
Soondae, in Seoul street food lingo, is Korean blood sausage, a well-loved delicacy. For the uninitiated, the idea of sinking your taste buds into pork blood sounds too preposterous, but full-fledged foodies appreciate the rare street treat.
Koreans have a special way of preparing blood sausage, a lot different from blood sausages sold in other cities – mixed with sticky rice or glass noodles and then steamed or boiled. What makes soondae an even bigger treat is when vendors throw in a side of innards and, of course, gochujang.
Here are the best places to have soondae in Seoul.
Two of Korea’s greatest gifts to the culinary world are kimchi, on the hot end of the spectrum, and patbingsu, on the freezing, opposite end. Patbingsu is shaved ice topped with red beans, rice cake, and special syrup. It’s usually sold in the summer, but some cafes have it the whole year round.
The classic patbingsu has evolved into myriad variations, much to the pleasure of patbingsu fanatics and to the disdain of patbingsu purists. To each his own, right?
Trendy patbingsu variants include coffee, green tea, topped with ice cream, topped with fruits, and even in a cup as a drink. If you’re a patbingsu newbie, classic patbingsu is the only perfect way to start.
Here are the best places to have patbingsu in Seoul.
Seoul is ice cream land – so many kinds of ice cream yet it’s hard to come across one that you wouldn’t like. Even convenience store ice cream is fantastic. If it’s your mission to try every kind of ice cream in Seoul, you better try each kind once you see it as there’s plenty to taste.
Cane ice cream is one of the recent additions to Seoul’s ice cream collection. It is a huge cane-shaped rice cracker filled with ice cream. Then, there is their massive sundae twirl in variants such as green tea and vanilla. A classic favorite is ice cream sandwiched between fish-shaped waffles – cute and refreshing!
Here are the best places to have Korean ice cream in Seoul.