Western snack culture consists of everything from potato chips to ice cream, which is a far cry from traditional Korean snacks, so let’s learn a little more about what Korean snacks are all about.
Tteok (Traditional Rice Cake): Korean cake is made steaming glutinous rice flour (also known as sweet rice or chapssal). Normal rice flour can be used for some kinds of tteok. In Korea it is customary to eat tteok guk (tteok soup) on New Year’s Day and sweet tteok at weddings and on birthdays. It is often considered a celebratory food and can range from rather elaborate versions with nuts and fruits down to the plain-flavored tteok used in home cooking. Some common ingredients for many kinds of tteok are mung bean, red bean, and sweet red bean paste, Korean mugwort, jujube and other dried fruits, sesame seeds and oil, sugar, and pine nuts.
- Patsirutteok: Rice powder and the pounded red beans are layered alternately in siru, an earthenware steamer, with a final layer of red beans, and the mixture is steamed. The red color of the red bean is believed to keep away evil spirits and bad luck, and this tteok is prepared for many occasions to bring good luck.
- Hwajeon: Small, sweet pancake or tteok (rice cake) made of any edible flower petals such as azalea or chrysanthemum, glutinous rice flour and sugar in Korean cuisine. Its name means “flower cake”
- Jeolpyeon: Pounded and steamed rice dough is pressed in a wooden pattern mold, cut into pieces, and coated with sesame oil.
- Injeolmi: Rice cake, made by steaming and pounding glutinous rice flour, shaped into small pieces and covered with steamed powdered dried beans or hulled red bean powder.
- Gyeongdan: Glutinous rice dough is formed into small balls, placed in boiling water and removed, and then coated with different-colored powders made from sesame seeds, beans, cinnamon, chestnut, etc.
Hangwa (Traditional Sweets and Cookies): Hangwa is appreciated for its artistic and decorative colors and patterns as well as for its pleasing sweet taste. Often taken along with traditional beverages, it is regarded as a healthful snack and classy dessert. Beautifully packaged baskets or boxes of hangwa also make excellent gifts, especially appropriate for the elderly. It is available at shops specializing in traditional cakes and sweets and special sections in department stores.
- Gangjeong: Light and fluffy, made from glutinous rice and honey. Deep-fried and coated with popped rice, cinnamon, sesame seeds, etc.
- Yakgwa: Soft cookie made by kneading sesame oil, honey, wine and ginger juice into flour. The dough is than patterned after a flower, fried and topped with honey.
- Dasik: Dasik is made from nongmal (which is starch made from potatoes, sweet potatoes or soaked mung beans), pine pollen (songhwa), black sesame, honey, flour from rice or other grains, nuts and/or herbs. Then it’s kneaded and pressed with decorative stamps.
Hwachae (Traditional Cold Beverage): Traditional cold beverages are called hwachae. They are usually made with fruits or grains, and water sweetened by either sugar or honey, or flavored and colored by omija (fruit of the “five-taste” tree, Schisandra chinensis). There are also hwachae made from Oriental medicinal foods, azalea or pine pollen.
- Sikhye: A traditional sweet Korean rice beverage, usually served as a dessert. In addition to its liquid ingredients, sikhye also contains grains of cooked rice, and in some cases pine nuts.
- Sujeonggwa: A traditional fruit punch is made from dried persimmons, cinnamon, and ginger, and is often garnished with pine nuts. The flavor of sujeonggwa is mildly hot and spicy, and at the same time sweet. It is served cold, often in a punch bowl, and is dark reddish brown in color.
- Fruit Hwachae: A fruit punch made from cherries, strawberries, peaches or watermelons. There are also hwachae with floating azalea petals, boiled barley, pine pollen, or slices of pear in omija-flavored water, sweetened with honey or sugar.
Popular Snacks: Any time you pass by shopping districts, traditional markets, back streets of areas bustling with crowds, tourist spots or college towns, you will come across street vendors, canopy wagons or flour food eateries offering snacks popular among a wide range of age groups. They often serve as an inexpensive meal for Koreans in a hurry or for tourists who want to partake of the local culture.
- Ramyeon: Korean-style ramen noodles. Besides classic ramyeon, there are a variety of others such as seafood-added (haemul ramyeon), kimchi-added, etc. Instant varieties in a Styrofoam bowl can be found at supermarkets or convenience stores; just add boiling water and it’s ready in a few minutes.
- Eomuk: Eomuk is sliced fish paste that is skewered before being boiled in broth. Enjoyed during the colder months of the year, eomuk usually accompanies soju or other beverages.
- Sundae: A Korean dish made generally by boiling or steaming cow or pig’s intestines that are stuffed with various ingredients. The most common type of sundae is made of pig’s intestines stuffed with cellophane noodles (dangmyeon), barley, and pork blood, although some variants also contain perilla leaves, scallions (pa), fermented soybean paste (doenjang), glutinous rice, kimchi and soybean sprouts.
- Gimbap: Made from steamed white rice (bap) and various other ingredients, rolled in gim (sheets of dried seaweed) and served cold in bite-size slices. Gimbap is often eaten during picnics or outdoor events, or as a light lunch, served with danmuji or kimchi. It is similar, but not identical, to norimaki, one of the many variants of the Japanese rice-based dish sushi.
- Twigim: Batter-dipped items that include vegetables of various kinds, meat, seafood, kimbap – just about anything that the cook can get the batter to adhere to. The same concept as tempura.
- Tteokbokgi: Rice powder is steamed and made into a long cylinder called garaetteok. It is cut finger-length and cooked in a spicy, sweet sauce. Vegetables, or ramyeon can be added depending on one’s taste.
So if you’re hankering for something other than a bag of chips, you might want to stop by a Korean bakery/supermarket or check the menu of your favorite Korean restaurant to see the availability of some of the food offerings above. Who knows? That bag of chips may soon be left by the wayside.