There are two Korean words for snack. One is gansik (간식), which means “food eaten between meals”; and the other gwaja (과자), which means “confectionery snacks”. I’m talking about the latter here: the snacks that are mass produced, sold in supermarkets in shiny packaging, and dangerously addictive.
Along with the standard rice crackers, there are a large variety of cookies, biscuits, chips, candy, and chocolate goods available on the market. So what do you choose? Taking a quick look at the snack aisle can turn into an overspending spree quite easily (especially if you’re on an empty stomach), so here’s a quick guide to the Top 10 Korean snacks.
This Top 10 is not based on pure sales volume, but also put in account the snack’s history, recognition factor, and usage as cultural reference. “Top 10 Iconic snacks” might be a more explanatory title. The top snacks are all produced by Korea’s main confectionery companies: Crown, Haitai, Lotte, Nongshim, and Orion.
The Top 10
Because Korea is a peninsula surrounded by the sea, not only is there an abundance of seafood dishes, there are also many seafood flavored snacks. Unsurprisingly, the “fishy” taste is something which almost everyone likes.
Saewookkang (새우깡) simply means shrimp chips and it’s called “the Nation’s gwaja”. It’s usually the first processed snack that babies eat and the snack which the elderly seek; it’s that mild and easy to digest. It’s the snack that is usually fed to seagulls, ducks and swans, large goldfish that greedily rush in. It’s the staple complimentary snack that is given to customers in bars and beer halls. The list goes on and on, it’s just everywhere!
It is a savory snack; “shrimpy” (as expected) and salty. Saewookkang has been around since 1971 and the same ad jingle since 1988.
The snack even has its own site : http://www.saewookkang.com
Do you have a Korean friend? Do you have a Korean guy friend? Do you have a Korean guy friend who has completed his mandatory military service? If you do, you most certainly have heard a story about Chocopie (쵸코파이). Chocopie is a chocolate covered spongecake-like snack with a marshmallow center, and it’s the soldiers’ main obsession (besides K-pop girl groups) during their service.
Military service is really hard, as any guy will tell you. Deprived of civilian joys such as freely pigging out on sugary goods, this sweet snack is somehow like a prize to them, probably symbolizing a “normal” life. They all have tearful, heart wrenching Chocopie stories to tell, whether their own or a fellow soldier’s, so try asking if you haven’t heard any already.
Chocopie is also popular as an alternative birthday cake; for students without a lot of pocket money, one will suffice, for those who want something different, a pyramid stack of Chocopie is used.
Chocopie’s website : http://www.chocopie.co.kr/
Matdongsan (맛동산), the “hill of taste”, was introduced in the mid-‘70s and has been a steadyseller ever since. Designed after the traditional sweet snack gangjeong (강정, deep fried rice puffs), Matdongsan is a glazed, deep fried flour snack with peanut sprinkles. It is crunchy, sweet, and leaves your fingers sticky, but definitely worth it. It is probably one of the favorite sweet snacks of the older generation.
Jollypong is a puffed rice snack, with a cocoa covered version as well. Introduced in the early ‘70s, it is probably one of the mass produced snacks that resemble traditional snacks the most. Puffed rice made in a traditional machine usually popped out the snacks with a loud “pong!” sound; thus the name.
Before western breakfast cereal was introduced to Korea, I remember people eating Jollypong like cereal, dunked in a bowl of milk. The cocoa version is more popular with the kids due to its sweetness and is also often eaten with milk.
Jollypong is another snack with its own site : http://www.jollypong.com/
Another typically Korean flavor, ojingeo (오징어) and ttangkong (땅콩) literally mean squid and peanuts. Real dried roasted squid with roasted peanuts is a favorite anju (안주, food that accompanies alcoholic drinks) pairing, so someone came up with the brilliant idea of putting these two flavors together in a snack. Like its name, the snack has a strong sea-like salty taste outside with a peanut in the center.
The snack also has traces of being “roasted” on its exterior, making it interesting trying to find smiley (or frowny) faces. As expected, it is a favorite with beer lovers.
The snack has its own fun site: http://www.ottangworld.com
Is there any country in the world that celebrates a holiday named after a snack? November 11th is Pepero Day, named simply because placing the chocolate covered stick biscuits side by side look like 11/11. Albeit not an official national holiday, Pepero Day has become one of those days to celebrate just for the sake of celebrating and now it even feels weird if you don’t participate. It’s like an alternative (or an extra) Valentine’s Day, and I personally think it is marketing genius on the part of the company. Considering that most of Pepero sales are in November, I’d say that it is a more than a whopping success.
Pepero is also the snack used in a kissing game, where two people start eating the Pepero from each end to meet in the middle, like Lady and the Tramp with their single strand of spaghetti.
Pepero is available in various flavors.
Yangpa (양파, onion) + ring (링). When you talk about onion rings in Korea, it’s usually not the real thing – sliced onions dipped in batter and then fried – but these onion flavored snacks. Light and bubbly, they literally melt in your mouth. I know some people who like to skewer them on a chopstick to eat several at once, conveyor-belt style. Genius or extremely lazy, that’s in the mind of the beholder. They go great with Korean beer, by the way. (Foreign beer seems to overpower the taste.)
Corn snacks are very popular everywhere and Korea is no exception. Among the large variety, Kkokkalcorn is top kernel. The Korean spelling for the English word ‘cone’ and ‘corn’ are the same, so the Korean name that mashes kkokkal (strong pronunciation of 고깔, cone shaped hat) and corn/cone (콘) is really a clever double entendre. The snack is salty, crunchy, corny, and comes in differently seasoned flavors.
Bap (밥) is a very convenient word. It literally means cooked rice, food, and also meal. Gorae (고래, whale) and bap would mean whale food. There is a wide assortment of miniature sea creatures that are empty, thin, and have a savory taste of fish.
It’s also impossible to eat them one by one. In Korean we usually say that we shake (털다, teolda) them into our mouths. I think that’s the true meaning of the snack’s name – that we become whales devouring tiny, tiny plankton in hordes.
Whale food has its own site : http://www.goraebab.com
Chocolate, in my opinion, is always a homerun. How could it not be? So when you pack chocolate in a ball of fluffy pastry? It becomes a Homerunball. Designed after a cream puff, it’s as creamy and light as the original and just darn addictive. There is a plain cream version as well, but I always go for the chocolate.
That rounds out the Top 10, but what is a list without an Honorable Mention?
Honorable Mention goes to Sando, the oldest confectionery snack in Korea. Introduced in 1961, it is your regular, down-to-earth, basic, cream centered cookie “sandwich”. It comes in three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.
Other popular snacks worth checking out: Bananakick (바나나킥), Ace cracker (에이스크래커), Cham cracker (참크래커), Margaret biscuits (마가렛트), Wafers (웨하스), Cancho (칸쵸), Buttercoconut cookies (빠다코코넛), and Honeytwists (꿀꽈배기) .