Korea is a country that never sleeps. All-night shops and restaurants are common and people gather together until the wee hours of the morning. During the summer, it’s especially easy to find Koreans escaping the summer heat deep into the night, whether by the breezy riverside or in the cool of the mountains or at home with the air-conditioning on full blast.
Wherever the late night haunt, it is inevitable that food becomes the center of attention. Even if you don’t feel like cooking, because late night delivery in Korea is as common as chopsticks it’s extremely easy to fall to the temptation of a late night snack, although Koreans never truly “snack” at night – we go for full meals (야식).
So what do Koreans like to eat late at night? According to various surveys, here are the most popular Top 10.
Instant noodles, the Korean way. A staple in every Korean’s pantry, it’s easy to make and easy to enhance to one’s personal taste: add an egg or green onions or cheese or kimchi or other vegetables or seafood or… There are so many varieties to choose from and so many variations you can make. You can also opt for the truly instant “add boiling water and stir” cup ramyeon as well. Not only for late night, it’s the most popular snack of them all.
* Post about Top 10 Korean ramyeon: http://blog.korea.net/?p=3159
* Post about the latest popular ramyeon: http://blog.korea.net/?p=6968
Tteokbokki and Sundae (떡볶이 & 순대)
It’s pronounced “soondeh”, the perfect companion to the other popular snack – tteokbokki. Usually, if you buy one, you tend to buy the other. Tteokbokki has been the standard snack from childhood on for the longest time, before the western style fast food chains were introduced.
Sold at streetside food tents pojangmacha (포장마차), at diners, or made at home, the variations of tteokbokki are immense: the hot spicy sauce-only tteokbokki, the sweet spicy tteokbokki with fishcakes and boiled egg, the soy sauce based ganjang (간장) tteokbokki, the beef and vegetable mix royal tteokbokki (궁중 떡볶이), and the differently named rabbeokki (라뽂이), which is made by adding ramyeon noodles to tteokbokki. Sundae is there to add an extra protein punch while balancing out the taste.
* Post about tteokbokki: http://blog.korea.net/?p=1555 and http://blog.korea.net/?p=2897
* Post about sundae: http://blog.korea.net/?p=2854
Korean fried chicken (치킨)
There are so many different franchises to choose from, with so many different varieties. It goes so great with beer the combination has its own word: chi-maek (치맥, chicken + maekju, chicken + beer). It’s not just the chicken, there’s something about the batter which makes Korean fried chicken highly, highly addictive. And with 24 hour delivery available? If we were to rate only the Top 10 delivery late night snacks, fried chicken would win in a landslide.
* Post about Korean fried chicken: http://blog.korea.net/?p=2196
Jjajangmyeon and jjampong (짜장면 & 짬뽕)
Ah, Chinese delivery. Not just a late night snack but an all time favorite. Sudden craving for Chinese is such a common symptom in Korea, the main issue is usually: jjajangmyeon or jjampong? Sometimes you want the black bean sauce noodles; sometimes you want the sweet spicy seafood soupy noodles. Sometimes you want both, so Chinese restaurants in Korea have come up with jjamjjamyeon where the two noodle dishes come in a halved bowl. Both go great with tangsuyuk (탕수육, sweet and sour pork), which completes a perfect late night meal.
Jokbal and bossam (족발 & 보쌈)
More pork! Whereas beef is mostly enjoyed freshly grilled on the barbeque, pork is more versatile in the delivery department. Jokbal (pig trotters) and bossam (boiled pork slices with an assortment of raw leaf vegetables) are popular dishes for meals, snacks, and especially anju (안주, side dishes for drinking). Since many late night snacks involve a drink or two, these pork dishes are a favorite for those who are not in the mood for chicken.
Jokbal is collagen-rich, has a dark deep flavor, and the satisfaction of gnawing on the bone to get the last bit of meat is pretty great. A variety of side dishes accompany a jokbal delivery, such as makguksu (막국수, mixed spicy buckwheat noodles eaten cold) and mul kimchi (물김치, water kimchi). Bossam is a lighter dish, where you wrap slices of boiled pork in leafy vegetables with either a salted shrimp sauce or ssamjang (쌈장, fermented and seasoned bean paste). Bossam comes with many side dishes as well.
* Restaurant review serving bossam: http://blog.korea.net/?p=2398 and http://blog.korea.net/?p=4214
Probably one of the most common dishes in the whole world: mandu, i.e. dumplings. I’m quite sure every country has their unique version and Korea is not an exception. Easily made at home, easily bought at diners, streetfood carts, and convenience stores, it is one of the most suitable dishes for a late night snack.
Many varieties are available and they can be prepared in various ways as well: water mandu (물만두), small dumplings poached in water; steamed mandu (찐만두), which come in many different shapes and sizes; fried mandu (군만두), which are usually the general flat-shaped type. There is also manduguk (만두국), which is a hot dumpling soup.
Jeon (전) or Buchimgae (부침개)
Rain starts falling during the day and in Korea you’ll inevitably hear, “Let’s go have pajeon and dongdongju after work.” There are many theories why Koreans eat this duo of savoury scallion pancakes with bowls of thick creamy makgeolli but no one really cares; rain is just an excuse to eat the tasty dish with its ideal alcoholic companion. Because scallions are such a staple in Korean cuisine, every Korean would have some ready in their fridge or pantry, so making pajeon is quite an easy task to do at home. Many Korean drinking spots offer pajeon as a staple on their menu, too.
It’s not only pajeon, though. (Pa meaning scallion.) There are many varieties of jeon which can either be a pancake of sorts, or slices of meat or vegetables dipped in a light flour or egg batter and lightly pan-fried. Pajeon and kimchi-jeon are the most popular as they are the easiest to make (every Korean household has kimchi as well). They are also called buchimgae or jijimi (지짐이).
Ah, anyone who is interested in Korea knows bibimbap, right? The hot stone pot filled to the brim with an array of colorful vegetables and meat, topped with a beautiful egg, all to be mixed together with a spoonful of spicy gochujang (고추장, hot red pepper paste)?
Ah, but that pretty dish is not the late night version I’m talking about. The late night kind of bibimbap is when you take all the leftover banchan (반찬, side dishes) in the fridge, directly dump them in the rice cooker with the leftover rice, add gochujang and sesame oil if you like, stir like mad – and I mean mad – take the whole pot from the cooker, and eat the mixed concoction straight from the cooker pot. Ta-da! You solved the problem of leftovers and satisfied your hunger, too.
It’s actually a cliché. In western media, when someone gets dumped or is depressed, they’re depicted devouring a whole tub of ice cream or gobbling down cake. In Korean media (and in real life), when someone is upset, they’d go home, head straight for the fridge and the rice cooker and make this homemade bibimbap. Usually they’d be crying and eating the bibimbap at the same time while hugging the pot for dear life. The best friend/roommate or mom or sister would show up during this display and join in on eating the bibimbap, all together. (If you’re a K-drama fan, you’d probably be familiar with this scene.)
Pizza and hamburgers (피자 & 햄버거)
Koreans’ tastes have changed over the years and the trend of late night snacks have changed as well, with western style fast foods climbing up the popularity ladder at a fast pace. Pizza deliveries are as ubiquitous as fried chicken; there are the big name franchises but also the neighborhood pizzerias which deliver hot pizzas at all hours. Hamburgers can also be delivered with franchises like Lotteria and McDonalds offering the service 24/7 at certain locations. “Couple Sets” and “Family Sets” are popular for both pizza and hamburgers; you can get all the extra side dishes and beverages with a simple phone call or a click of the mouse.
If you haven’t noticed already, Koreans just love goguma, the sweet potato. We’ll eat it roasted, grilled, and steamed in its skin. We eat it with soft drinks, with kimchi (usually water kimchi), and put it into a variety of dishes which you won’t necessarily think of such as cakes, pizza, and even ice cream. In the winter, roasted goguma (군고구마) vendors can be seen throughout the country and people buy them in bulk to roast or steam at home. It’s a great alternative for a meal and consequently is one of the nation’s favorite snacks.
There you go – the most popular late night cravings. Whatever the season, whether it is homemade bibimbap, street food tteokboki, or Korean fried chicken, Koreans are blissfully munching their way through the night.