The Best Korean traditional Snacks, including both sweet and savory options.
The 1st time I went to the food paradise that is South Korea was in 2010. 10 trips later, Korean food, K-pop and K-drama have never been more popular!
Korean snacks, in particular, have a delicious unique taste and texture. Some even have health benefits and they make great souvenirs to buy in Korea.
These are 10 traditional Korean snacks that have been loved by Koreans for centuries. They are a must-try for anyone who wants to experience the taste of Korea!
Note: if you are a foodie, I highly recommend a day trip from Seoul to Jeonju, the food capital of South Korea!
These sweet pancakes, stuffed with a cinnamon and brown sugar filling, are my FAVORITE Korean snack. I can eat 5 or more during my Korean holidays! They're chewy, soft and sweet- perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth!
They're best enjoyed during winter though as the sugar stuffing is hot and sizzling!
Some better versions come with chopped nuts inside (peanuts, pine nuts etc.) The version in Busan, known as Ssiat Hotteok, is literally overflowing with seeds and nuts!
Where to buy in Korea: These are a popular street food usually sold for 1000 won. (Tourist hotspots like Myeong Dong sell them for 2000 won but, honestly, the ones at Myeong Dong suck. Pop over to Insa Dong for a better and cheaper one! The Busan version is also 2000 won as it has more ingredients.)
Pro Tip: the vendors usually make them fresh on order. Sometimes they may have made extra after a previous order, with the extras waiting on the hot plate for customers. Those aren't as tasty as the freshly made ones, as the crust can be a bit soggy.
Where to buy outside of Korea: These are hard to find ready-made outside of Korea. I've visited many Korean marts and eaten at numerous Korean restaurants outside of Korea and never seen them. Thankfully, they're not difficult to make hotteok at home, either from scratch or via a box mix. (Click through for step-by-step instructions.)
Rice Cakes 떡
Rice is found in many Korean snacks, both sweet and savory (which I'll touch on below.) Many Korean desserts have a chewy texture, thanks to the use of glutinous rice flour!
Songpyeon is a type of Korean rice cake (tteok 떡.) It's similar to Japanese mochi but more sticky and not as soft or smooth.
Shaped like a half-moon, it dates back to the Goryeo dynasty. (These days, you can find modern ones shaped like pretty flowers.) This snack comes in different colors, naturally coloured using ingredients such as mugwort, and dried fruit powder.
It is usually eaten during Chuseok 추석, also known as Hangawi 한가위. It's Korea's mid-autumn festival that falls on the 5th day of the 8th lunar month. 1 of the most important holidays in Korea, this harvest festival usually falls in September. Koreans usually return home to spend time with their families, and eat!
Songpyeon is 1 of the snacks they feast on during this season. Typically, it has a sweet filling, such as honey and sesame seeds and is steamed over pine needles. (This is to prevent the sticky cakes from sticking to the steamer and is reflected in its name as "song" means pine.)
Where to buy: In September, Korean supermarkets such as H-mart or traditional Korean markets in Korea (think Gwangjang Market of Netflix fame) will stock it.
In Singapore, Hodunamu in Everton Park HDB estate sells traditional Korean snacks!
Watch how to make it here:
Gyeongdan is a type of tteok/ chewy rice cake that’s covered in various flavoured powders such as roasted soybean powder, black sesame and mugwort. Sometimes, they include a red bean filling as well.
Where to buy: Korean traditional markets. Alternatively, enjoy them with hot tea, such as Maesil Plum Tea, at a traditional Korean teahouse.
Hwajeon 화전 (Flower cake)
Literally translated as flower pan-fry, these are made with glutinous rice flour, honey and the edible petals of seasonal flowers, such as chrysanthemums in autumn and cherry blossom in spring. When there are no flowers in winter, edible leaves are cut into flower shapes as replacements.
They are believed to have originated in the Koryo Dynasty, from the picnic called Hwajeon Nori.
Cookies and Puffs
Yakgwa 약과 (Traditional Honey Cookie)
Yakgwa is a type of traditional Korean honey cookie believed to have health benefits. Hence its very literal name: "yak" meaning medicine and "gwa" meaning sweet! (They're deep fried though!)
Made with flour, honey, and sesame oil, this sweet treat usually comes in the shape of flat flowers. They're often decorated with sesame seeds or nuts and served with tea. Yakgwa is a popular snack during the winter season!
Where to buy in Korea: Traditionally served on special occasions, you can find them everyday in cafes in Korea now. (I recommend the hanok cafes in Insa-dong, Bukchon-dong and Ikseon-dong. 2 that I always visit in Insa-dong are Shin's Old Teahouse (Sinyet Chatjip) and Namusae Tea House.
Alternatively, go to the confectionary section in traditional markets and supermarkets.
Where to buy outside of Korea: many Korean marts carry this.
You can also learn how to make yakgwa yourself:
The ingredients are simple, including honey, ginger, rice wine and sesame oil.
Dasik 다식 (Tea cookies)
So named as they are usually served with tea, these light and delicate bite-size cookies comes in pretty colors- usually 5-and shapes.
Sesame seed and grain are processed into a fine grain and mixed with honey. Flavors include:
- Toasted sesame seed powder: Kkae dasik
- Pine Pollen: Songhwa dasik
- Chestnut: Bam dasik
Essentially a sweet rice puff, Gangjeong actually looks pretty modern. (It's very similar to a Rice Krispy snack!) Some believe it to be adapted from the Chinese snack, sachima, asboth use a thick sweet syrup to bind the contents together.
These days, you can find many modern variations, in different colors and flavors. Some have seeds, nuts and dried fruits mixed with the rice.
Where to buy: head down to traditional markets in Seoul
Ppeongtwigi (Korean popcorn)
These are popped rice crackers that come in different flavours, shapes, sizes, and colours. Rice is placed in a machine and high heat and/or pressure is applied to make the rice pop.
The classic version of these puffed rice grains do not have a strong flavor, just a slight sweetness. Hence, it's a popular kid's snack. Adults can eat it with cream cheese, peanut butter and other spreads.
Since these classic plain rice crackers are not heavily seasoned and dissolve easily in the mouth, it’s suitable for kids of most ages. Pair with cream cheese peanut butter etc
Gukhwappang (Chrysanthemum Bread)
This snack has a very literal name: chrysanthemum is Gukhwa and bread is ppang.
This pastry is shaped like a flower but does not have a floral taste. It's actually more similar to Japanese taiyaki and is usually stuffed with red bean paste. Modern street food versions have peanut and/ or honey fillings.
Bungeo-ppang 붕어빵 (Fish Bread)
This fish-shaped pastry is filled with a sweet red bean paste.
It made its way to Korea in the 1930s via the Japanese colonisation. Since then, Koreans have created their own version under the influence of European waffles.
It has a crisp, golden brown shell and is especially popular in winter.
Fun fact: the Japanese version is a sea bream whilst the Korean is a carp!
Where to buy: you can find these at street stalls and even some cafes in Korea. You can also find commercially made ones in supermarkets both inside and outside of Korea. There is also a version in which the fish is stuffed with ice cream and red beans.
However, why not make your own? It's not difficult if you have the right pan!
This is a sweet and salty glutinous rice snack, topped with healthy ingredients such as chestnuts, pine nuts and jujube. It's the perfect snack as it keeps you full for a long time.
It takes a while to make but you can expedite the cooking if you have a pressure cooker. Besides sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil are also added, so it's has a slightly savoury taste.
It's usually eaten during daeboreum, or the 1st full moon of the Lunar New Year, as well as during banquets.
Dalgona 달고나 (Honeycomb candy)
In the West, Dalgona is often associated with coffee.
However, in Korea, it traditionally refers to a Korean sweet snack from the 1960s. (Dalgona coffee is actually coffee that has the same toffee flavor as the Honeycomb snack!)
This thin flat disc has a shape stamped in the centre and was featured in Netflix's Squid Game. In the 60s and 70s, kids in Korea would play a game in which they would try not to break the shape in the centre, when eating the sweet. (The reward was often a free Dalgona!)
Where to buy: the number of Dalgona makers on the streets have decreased over the last few decades but, since Squid Game, slowly increased. There are 1-2 Dalgona candy vendors in Myeong Dong.
It's also not difficult to make at home- you pretty much just need sugar and baking soda- though do be careful with the hot sugar.
Dried squid is everywhere in Korea. It's a chewy, protein-laden snack that's similar to meat jerky. (You might find it hard to eat if you don't have good teeth!)
They're perfect for eating when drinking makgeolli (korean rice wine.)
Where to buy: street vendors everywhere in Korea sell it. Alternatively, get vacuum packed ones from the supermarket to bring home.
Tteokbokki is a popular savory Korean snack.
In the most basic version, these soft and chewy rice cakes are cooked in a spicy and sweet sauce made from gochujang. There are also pimped up versions, in which the spicy rice cakes are cooked with hard boiled eggs, eomuk (Korean fishcakes), laden with cheese etc.
Where to buy in Korea: This is a popular street food and important part of Korean cuisine. Alternatively, you can find it in small food stalls or restaurants. They're also available in many convenience stores and Korean supermarkets.
Where to buy out of Korea: Almost every Korean restaurant would serve tteokbokki. If not, go to the Korean supermarket, and you can buy some to make at home.
Gimbap, sometimes spelt kimbap, is essentially Korean sushi.
However, this popular Korean snack is much more savory than Japanese sushi. Cooked short grain rice is wrapped in seaweed sheets, usually with vegetables, and sometimes meat or seafood. rolled in seaweed sheets. It is a popular snack, breakfast or lunch option in Korea, and is perfect for eating when you're on the go.
Where to buy: you can find it at many street stalls, supermarkets and restaurants in and outside of Korea.
Pro Tip: these are simple to make at home but, if you're leery of rolling your own, make the easy sandwich version of gimbap (as seen on Attorney Woo.)
Jeon is a Korean pancake usually made with a flour batter, egg and water. It comes in sweet and savory versions, and can be eaten as an appetiser, side dish and snack!
You can mix it with different ingredients to form different types of jeon, such as:
- (Simplest version) vegetables/ meat/ seafood etc coated in the flour batter then fried
- Pajeon (Green onion pancake)
- Haemul Pajeon (Seafood and Green Onion Pancake)
- Kimchi Jeon (Kimchi pancake. Sometimes meat and other vegetables are added too)
- Gamja Jeon (Potato pancake. The potatoes are usually grated or pureed.)
Jeon is often served with a savory dipping sauce on the side.
Where to buy: Widely available at street vendors and Korean restaurants, you can also find it as a pre-mix in Korean supermarkets both within and outside of Korea.
This is a savory Korean pancake that I used to make all the time when living in London. (It's pretty easy but time consuming as you have to blend up the mung beans.)
Today, bindaetteok has been made famous by Netflix's Street Food show. You can still see the vendors grinding up the mung beans at Gwangjang Market today!
Basic versions just have mung bean sprouts in them but upmarket versions include kimchi and ground meat.
Goguma (Sweet potatoes)
Baked sweet potatoes are a popular Korean street food during the colder months. Super easy to make at home and much healthier than, say, French fries!
These originated from Busan, where you can find an endless variety of different types of eomuk, as well as ways to eat eomuk. Eomuk pasta, anyone?
Click here to see a video of 1 of the creations by Samjin Eomuk, the oldest Eomuk producer.
Sundae, or Korean blood sausage, is made with pig's blood, sweet potato noodles, and various spices. It is a popular snack in Korea, especially during winter.
You can eat it with a spicy sauce or as part of a soup and/ or stew. For example, in Busan, they serve Sundae Gukbap, or Pork and Sundae Soup with Rice.
Nurungji (Korean scorched rice)
This is a crisp flat disc made from the golden-brown rice that has formed at the bottom of the pot, after cooking. Crispy and nutty, you can eat Nurungji as a "biscuit" or even dessert (sprinkled with sugar.)
Alternatively, after the meal, hot water or hot tea is poured over the crispy layer when still in the pot, to form sungnyung.
Where to buy: I bought some Nurungji in Gwangjang market in Seoul. If you have it in the market, it's broken into bits and mixed with Korean Fried Chicken. However, they also sell the packed rice-disks. They stayed crispy for several days!
Gim (Roasted Seaweed)
This is a seasoned crispy seaweed, which is now considered a superfood. You can eat it on its own but it's also delicious when used to wrap around rice and other ingredients.
Where to buy: These can be found everywhere in Asian supermarkets nowadays. Traditionally, people roasted their own seaweed at home. Outside of Seoul, many restaurants still roast their own!
Which of these classic Korean snacks is your favorite? Let me know if I've missed any of the best Korean snacks in the comments!