While there are many things to dread about winter – the cold, the dark, the long days spent indoors – there are also more than a few perks to enjoy. Snow, winter festivals and sports, and delicious winter snacks – it’s hard to choose a favourite! When it comes to winter snacks, the choice is also difficult. Too much goodness to choose from and too little time. Winter days are waning, so here are a few treats to try before the snow melts!
I could prattle on all day about the heavenly hotteok. Hotteok is made from wheat flour dough shaped into a ball and filled with a sweet mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes honey, peanuts or seeds. This ball is then fried in hot oil and flattened into a disc shape before it’s served piping hot in a cardboard sleeve or cup. By then, the sugar has melted into a gooey, scalding mess and you have to try your best not to spill the hot confection down the front of your jacket with each bite – a true culinary adventure. A steal at only 1,000 won (less than $1 USD!), you can pick up your hotteok in virtually every city from Seoul to Busan. Just look for the tiny cart with the line-up of eager customers and the delicious fried dough scent!
Bungeoppang (붕어빵) and Ingeoppang (잉어빵)
Bungeoppang is another sweet treat, but don’t let its “fishy” appearance trick you! Shaped like a happy little fish, bungeoppang is made by pouring flour dough mix into a hot iron mold and filling it with either sweetened red bean paste known as pat (팥) or a thick custard-like cream. The mold is sealed for a minute or two and then the fish are gently popped out, ready to swim into your heart and your stomach! You can buy one to three big fish for about 1,000 won or eight to ten little fishies known as ingeoppang (잉어빵) for 2,000 won.
Hodu Gwaja (호두과자)
This sweet snack is best enjoyed by the bagful! Hodu gwaja is a little round walnut-flavoured pastry. Made in a similar fashion to the bungeobbang, hodu gwaja is made by pouring flour dough mix into a hot iron mold and filling it with the sweet red bean mix pat and walnuts. The name hodu gwaja comes from the combination of the word ’hodu’ (호두), meaning walnut, and gwaja’ (과자), used to refer to any snack such as cakes, cookies or chips. Perhaps then we could best translate the pastry’s name as walnut cake-snack? Whatever you choose to call it, hodu gwaja can be found across the country from street-side snack carts or the ubiquitous stands at highway rest stops. Buy a bag for just 2,000 to 3,000 won. The question is, will you share them with a friend?
Gyeranppang is a filling treat made by baking a whole egg inside a personal-sized sweet bread. The golden brown bread or ppang (빵) has a slightly crunchy texture on the outside. The inside is light and fluffy, complemented by a single soft egg or gyeran (계란) cooked to perfection. These tasty snacks will set you back about 2,000 to 3,000 won but I promise it’s worth it.
Roasted Sweet Potato (Gun Goguma, 군고구마)
Soft and tasty, roasted sweet potatoes are an iconic Korean winter snack. Sweet potatoes or goguma (구마) become even sweeter after they’ve roasted in an iron drum. If you want to try this starchy delicacy then keep your eyes peeled for a well-bundled older gentleman or ajeossi manning a homemade barrel oven. Two to three potatoes will cost about 2,000 to 5,000 won.
Roasted Chestnuts (Gun Bam, 군밤)
Another specialty of Korea’s gentlemen snack vendors, roasted chestnuts are often a side business on the winter snack carts. There’s a fine art to cooking this particular specialty. The most popular way is to tumble the chestnuts (밤) in a rolling barrel, toasting them until they reach savory perfection. Tickle your taste buds with a bagful for approximately 2,000 won.
Eomuk (어묵) or Odeng (오뎅)
These fish paste or fish cake skewers are a staple of the Korean snack carts. Known either by their native Korean name eomuk or by the Japanese-derived odeng, this snack is much tastier than it first appears. The paste used to make eomuk comes from finely-ground fish mixed with a thickening agent such as wheat or rice flour, plus a touch of rice wine, salt, and sugar. This mixture is then cooked until firm, cut and skewered to make the snack you see at your favourite food tents.
The fish cake skewers can be served as one long, wavy strip, a hot dog-like roll, or a single flat brick known as kkochi eomuk (꼬치 어묵), so named since ‘kkochi’ (꼬치) means ‘bar’ or ‘block’. You can dip the skewers in your choice of condiments, most often soy sauce, the spicy red pepper gochujang (고추장), or occasionally mustard and ketchup. This snack is best enjoyed when you slurp up the complimentary radish and spring onion broth used to heat the fish cakes. If you can’t get enough of the stuff, try eomuktang (어묵탕) or odengtang (오뎅탕), better known in English as fish cake soup or fish cake hot pot. Flavoured with seafoods such as crab or shrimp and red pepper, eomuktang is the perfect savoury winter treat to heat you up, especially if it’s nice and spicy! Expect to pay 500 won to 1,000 won per eomuk skewer and up to 10,000 won for the eomuktang.
Spicy yet simple, tteokbokki is made from long, white boiled rice cake sticks known as garaetteok (가래떡), tossed with eomuk or fish cake, veggies like cabbage, carrot, and onion, and simmered in gochujang or red pepper paste. This spicy mixture is slopped into a paper cup with only a toothpick or two to help you eat it! The lack of proper dining implements is half the fun I suppose and after just one taste I’m sure you’ll go back for more! Try a cupful of this spicy snack for around 3,000 won.
Now that I’ve written this, I’m feeling a bit peckish! Perhaps it’s time to hit up the snack carts. There’s only a month or two left to enjoy some of these winter treats, so get in quick!
What are your favourite Korean winter snacks? Let me know in the comments!
Written by Jessica Steele for The Korea Blog. Content may not be reproduced without permission.