Do spoil your appetite!
If you are on the lookout for sweet, tasty, trendy, and traditional, then look no further, because today we are going to take a little (snack) food tour around Korea!
In just the same way Korea is a magnificent showcase of modern and trendy alongside traditional and ancient, so too are Korean snacks offered on a wide and exciting spectrum harmonizing ancient and futuristic. From the most popular snacks featuring your favourite k-pop idols on the packaging to traditional tea snacks enjoyed by Joseon-era Confucian scholars along with tea or fine rice wine, snack foods today across the peninsula have something for everyone.
If you are afraid you may not be able to treat your taste buds right on your next trip to Korea, rest assured that just about every one of Korea’s magical convenience stores has a great stock of snacks both traditional and contemporary. So, get ready for the sweet, the salty, the exotic, and the delicious with Korea’s best snacks!
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1. Honey Butter Chips/허니버터칩
Like many popular and delectable Korean snacks and foods, this snack is a name that seems to perplex some folks until that is of course they try these sweet, salty, and buttery chips. They are in fact potato chips but with honey and butter seasoning, but that’s not all. These chips were at one point so coveted that people completely cleared them from store shelves once they got a taste of the addictively sweet flavour. They became incredibly rare to find on store shelves and some enterprising folks even sold them online for huge sums of money. This is especially wild given the fact a bag only costs about $1.50! Today they are still popular but you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy them.
2. Pepero/ 빼빼로
Nothing says romance like giving your crush a box of Pepero on Korea’s own Pepero Day! What is Pepero? They are cookie sticks often dipped in chocolate or other tasty flavours (with the exception of the provocatively named “Nude” Pepero that has no chocolate coating). The cookie sticks are dipped just enough so your hand can grab the end without melting some of the tasty chocolate, cookies n cream, or green tea that coats each stick. But then what now is Pepero day? Every year on November 11th Koreans may celebrate “Pepero day” why that date in particular? Because “11/11” Looks like Pepero sticks in a row!
The day originally had young people give a box of Pepero to the person they liked but has evolved into people giving them to friends, family, coworkers, classmates, and teachers just for fun. The holiday has also expanded a ton! With expensive gift sets that include plastic bouquets and massive teddy bears along with assortments of Pepero to really show how much you love your sweetheart!
3. Shrimp chips/새우깡
Now we get to enter some of the more “exotic” territory of the Korean snack world. Shrimp chips are crispy, crunchy, and far more addictive than most people may assume about a seafood-based treat! No, this isn’t a bag of crunchy fried shrimp, pink and curled up in all their shellfish goodness (though that is a treat one can get, usually from larger markets in the banchan/반찬 section)! Think instead crispy, golden, french-fry-looking goodies that are salty, savoury, and a little shrimpy. Shrimp chips are a snack often enjoyed alongside alcoholic beverages, along with some other chips one can find when raiding `convenience stores in Korea.
4. Orion Choco Pie/오리온 초코파이
The Orion company are masters of producing these delectable little chocolate pies. A marshmallow on the inside, sandwiched by two round layers of cake, coated by chocolate and packed with deliciousness. Chocopies are especially popular with young students but can certainly be enjoyed by young and old alike. A while back there was a practice of giving choco pies on someone’s birthday in lieu of a cake.
This was also mostly practised by school-age kids for their friends but is a tradition that may get revived from time to time. In fact, the writer of this article was treated with a plate of choco pies on their birthday when their boss found out last minute it was their birthday, happy 25th birthday to me! Today choco pie can be found in a variety of different flavours including green tea and banana.
5. Banana kicks/바나나킥
Made by the Nongshim company, that illustrious snackfood brand that brings so many varieties of ramyun to the table, also specializes in these sweet, puffy little treats. Once again, names can be deceptive, these are not dried slices of bananas a la “banana chips” but rather banana-flavoured puff treats. Banana kicks have always been an easy sell but especially so when the Bangtan Boys themselves, BTS were seen enjoying the treats. Don’t be afraid to enjoy these puffs alongside something chocolatey to really treat your sweet tooth.
6. Ghana Chocolate bars/가나 초콜릿
Speaking of chocolate, no chocolate bar is more famous in Korea than Ghana bars. Named after the country of Ghana, one of the largest exporters of cocoa beans, and produced by the Lotte company. Lotte is a conglomerate also known for the Lotteria fast-food chain along with several other iconic Korean snack foods, oh, and Lotte Tower, can’t forget that one!
Ghana chocolate comes in a wide variety and range of flavours and sizes, from small bite-sized squares to massive bars one can split with a few friends. The flavours can also include dark and milk chocolate but also strawberry and various other incredible varieties to choose from. Luckily, many convenience stores offer all sorts of deals like buy 2 get one free, so one can try a few different Ghana bars at a time.
Before becoming the most talked about confection in the world after its debut on Netflix’s Squid Game, and before it was the perfect garnish to many a cup of coffee during the early phases of the COVID pandemic, dalgona was a humble and traditional street snack. Dalgona has been seeing a really interesting rise in popularity after being featured in Korean coffee combinations and of course after being featured in Squid Game. Don’t worry, no Squid Game spoilers, but do know that the dalgona game is a real one. Though with much much less dire consequences! Traditionally, one would try to break the candy so that the picture printed in the centre would stay intact but the extra candy on the outside breaks away. Why not give it a try the next time you are in Korea?
One of the best traditional snacks found in Korea today is Yakgwa. Its name literally means “medicinal snack”. That is because it is prepared with lots of honey, ginger, sesame oil, wheat, and special rice wine. Traditionally, honey was considered to be a real panacea and used in lots of medicinal teas, tonics, and other elixirs and treats.
Once you try one of these chewy, gooey, sweet, tasty, and rich treats you be prescribing yourself a regular dose of these treats every day! Yakgwa was once one of the staple items found on ancestral offering tables, but today you can grab some from the supermarket’s snack section or in most convenience stores.
To refer to gangjeong as a “rice puff” would be a real blasphemy! Easily one of the best traditional snacks in Korea, gangjeong is a treat made from glutinous rice, nuts, seeds, spices, and other ingredients depending on the occasion or type of gangjeong one is enjoying. For example, some are coated with cinnamon, to give the treats a charming red color, while black sesame seeds can give these treats a striking, shiny, black coating.
What is particularly interesting about these historic treats is that they grew in popularity not as snacks to go along with alcoholic drinks but rather to be enjoyed as a tea snack. This was during Korea’s Goryeo dynasty, which was a kingdom that patronized Buddhism, and so the snacks become a real hit. They continued to be enjoyed by Buddhist monastics and Confucian scholars into Korea’s Joseon dynasty even up into the modern era, where they are eaten today. They are especially enjoyed as treats to celebrate weddings and to honour ancestors on ancestral offering tables. These treats are sweet, sticky, chewy, puffs of airy delight.
10. Dried Squid/해오징어
We will end here with a snack that is a little bit traditional, a little bit unique, and a lot of bit delicious! While dried squid may not be some folks’ ideal snack to match with drinks or while enjoying the nice weather outside while camping or hiking, we assure you, dried squid is one of the best Korean snacks one can enjoy! Dried squid is chewy, tasty, and very satisfying, especially when peeling off strips to nibble on while chatting and spending time with friends. Even for folks who don’t drink alcohol, dried squid is a great snack to give a try as a way to experience what Koreans enjoy and have enjoyed for generations. And don’t worry, you won’t get inked!
Snackaholics and Proud
Looking to try Korean snacks? Make sure to check out the best Korean snackboxes!
I hope you have enjoyed my list of some of the best snacks in Korea. The Land of Morning Calm is a real goldmine of amazing and delicious treats but these are just a few exceptional choices to get you started on your journey of Korean snacking.
Whether you are lucky enough to explore Korean convenience stores in person, are looking to purchase snack boxes online, or are blessed with Korean marts or stores in your area, we hope you give one (or all) of these treats a try! From ancient to modern, from sweet to savoury, these are some of the most popular snacks in Korea. So get out there, and enjoy some of these incredible treats.
About the Author:
Hi, I’m Kevin. I’m from Connecticut but I have been living, working, writing, teaching, and travelling all around the world. I have been living in Korea for about 7 years now and have travelled all across the peninsula, visiting different places, trying new foods, and meeting unique people from all walks of life. I currently live in Yangsan, Korea with my wife and daughter.