Korea’s street food scene isn’t always the most exciting, certainly not compared to Thailand at any rate, but there are some gems out there that are worth picking up. Street foods here seem to be somewhat seasonal, and in the winter a couple of our favorites come out to play. This is a tale of street food used to supplement an unsatisfying meal, and by joining me on this adventure you’re condemning yourself to some potential mouth waters, so be prepared to get that mess under control.
It all started with lunch
Today Carolyn and I needed to do some shopping, so we met after work to get lunch at The Onigiri, a place that serves (as you might imagine) onigiri, or Japanese style rice balls. I’ve written about these triangular bits of delicious before, but The Onigiri makes them bigger and better than any of the ones we can find in the convenience stores. When we arrived, The Onigiri had obviously changed ownership, but it was the same people working there and the menu was mostly the same, minus our favorite rice ball, the tonkatsu onigiri. Boo. Carolyn got a cheese, tuna, and mayo onigiri, and I had the teriyaki spam one, it was kinda disappointing, definitely not as good as it used to be. Unsatisfied with our dining experience, we decided to pick up a couple of wintertime buns that the little ladies sell on the side of the road. This is some good stuff, so I’m going to be nice and share the experience with you.
Boong-eo Bbang: A Korean winter street food treat!
The picture above shows the first nice little lady we visited on the street today for a tasty treat. She was selling boong-eo bbang, or what I call “fish buns.” Essentially, pancake batter is fried in a fish shaped mold and red bean paste is dropped in to form a not-exactly-sweet but also not-really-savory treat. To be honest, the red bean paste in the ones we had today was a bit on the bland side. Sometimes it’s mostly brown sugar with a little bit of red bean. Today it was mainly red bean with very little brown sugar. Still pretty yummy anyhow.
Here’s a close up of the bun while still fully intact and actually too hot to eat:
And another picture of what it looks like on the inside after you bite it’s little head off:
I give fish buns three bananas (not so subtle use of primate theme) out of five. They’re fun to have every once in a while, but hardly worth the wait. But seriously three of these for about $0.85 is a steal.
Kook-hwa bbang: little hockey pucks of Korean winter street food joy
Or next stop, about 30 meters up the street was the kook-hwa bbang stand of another little Korean lady. These buns are shaped like miniature hockey pucks, and have a slightly thicker batter than the fish buns. They’re also filled with red bean paste, but they always seem to be a bit sweeter. The pancake batter on the outside is a bit thicker and gooier and has a little more of a pull in its texture.
These little hockey pucks of Korean street food dessert joy will almost always be sold to you at the price of five for 1,000 Korean wons, or about $0.85. It’s a cheap fix if you just don’t think you can make it home from the subway station or through the supermarket without going all Donner Party on the little brats loitering at the cart return. Nom nom nom. I give them four out of five bananas.
I think the thing that really makes these two varieties of Korean street food special are that you can only get them when it’s cold outside. You wouldn’t want them when it’s warm, because they’re served too hot to eat. Your money gets you a hand warmer AND a snack. There will probably be a day soon, when I’m leaving a “real” office and wish one if these little red tents was on the side of the road to sell me a cheap snack for my commute home. Of course, who’s to say there won’t be some sort of food cart selling kebabs or gyros or something even tastier instead?