We often eat snacks just to have something to munch on, even when we aren’t that hungry. And why not? After all, snacks are so accessible and provide us happiness at your fingertips. There are new snacks released every year, but some snacks have been consistently getting lots of love over decades. Let’s take a look at some unique and tasty snacks in Korea. And if you find any of the following snacks while traveling in Korea, pick it up and try it!
Matdongsan is a snack made by Haitai, one of the major confectionery companies in Korea. First released in 1975, Matdongsan is a delicious confection that has been fried in oil with wheat as a base and lots of starch syrup and peanut powder sprinkled on it afterwards. The sweetness goes really well with the crispy texture, which has made Matdongsan a long-time steady seller in snacks market. For some people, the hard, crispiness of this snack used to be a little too hard to the point where it could actually hurt the ceiling of your mouth. These days, however, the texture has become softer, so no need to worry about your mouth any more.
The name Saewookkang has an interesting story behind it. When the food and beverage company Nongshim first created Saewookkang, Shin Chunho, head of the company, struggled with how to name the new snack. Then one day, he heard his little daughter singing the traditional Korean song “Arirang.” His daughter mispronounced the word and went “Arikkang, arikkang…”, and this inspired Shin Chunho to combine Saewoo (Korean word for shrimp) and kkang, which became Saewookkang. Saewookkang was first released in 1971 and has become one of the most popular snacks in Korea. Practically every single person in Korea is familiar with the snack as well as the commercial song for it. The shape of Saewookkang will remind you of French fries, but it tastes like shrimp Unlike a lot of other snacks which are fried in oil, Saewookkang is made with a method called parching., which is basically frying the pieces with the heat from the heated salt, creating the most perfect flavor and texture relative to the amount of shrimp. Instead of using the common parching method, Nongshim developed a unique technology which sprinkles palm oil first and then parch the stuff, which creates a more nice and salty flavor.
Choco pie was first introduced by the confectionery company Dongyang Jaegwa in April, 1974. This snack was inspired by Moon pie from America’s Chattanooga Bakery of 1917. Choco pie is a Korean snack cake that consists of two round-shaped biscuits attached with marshmallow and a chocolate covering over the entire thing, from top to bottom. When you bite into it, you’ll feel it has a unique texture; the outer layer of chocolate feels somewhat crispy, the biscuit feels somewhat softer, and then the marshmallow in the middle of the pie feels super soft. Because the biscuit parts are soft, people often think it’s bread or cake, but they are actually hard biscuits which later becomes soft and moist because they absorb the moist from marshmallow for a few days after being made.
The name Gosomi likely has a two-fold meaning; in Chinese, the name Gosomi is 高笑美, each letter of which means high, laugh, and beauty. In Korean, it comes from the expression “고소하다” which means “It’s savory/buttery.” It’s a cracker in the shape of a round edge square. One side is covered in sugar and there are tiny pieces of sesame seeds bedded in the other side. It’s so thin it will feel like it just melts when you put just one piece in your mouth. There is a surprising amount of sesame seeds bedded in the cracker; the sugar dominates the flavor of the cracker but you can definitely taste the savory flavor poking through. Gosomi has a strong fan base thanks to its proper balance of sweetness and saltiness. It is especially popular among women and people in middle age who don’t like excessively stimulating food.
The name Yakgwa technically means “a snack that works as a medicine,” but it’s more of a traditional Korean cake that has a distinct “traditional” flavor, kind of like how a donut in the US has a distinct flavor. It’s an extravagant, luxurious snack that was often made and eaten on Jungwol (the first month of the year in lunar calendar), and was a must-have type of food for a rite of passage, on Korean holidays, at parties, etc. Yakgwa is made with dough consisting of flour mixed with sesame oil and honey, which is fried at about 120 to 140℃ to let the oil soak its way into the dough and cook thoroughly. Then, while it’s still hot, the dough is put in grain syrup or honey mixed with ginger juice, cinnamon powder, and ground pepper for a while so that the grain syrup or honey soak its way in the dough. This is why when you bite into a Yakgwa, you see the yellowish bite-mark that seems to have multiple layers pressed together.
Yugwa is also a very old traditional Korean snack, and the name has the word Yu, which means oil, because it is fried in oil. Unlike the western snacks which are mostly made with flour and are cooked in the oven, a lot of Korean traditional snacks are made with rice. Making Yugwa involves a few interesting steps: first, you knead glutinous rice powder mixed with alcohol and steam it. Then you stir it and make a shape out of it. Let it dry, fry it in oil, and then coat it in grain syrup or honey and some popped rice as a finishing touch. Yugwa is usually enjoyed in the winter, especially ahead of Seol (first day of Korean lunar calendar), since the glutinous rice can droop when it’s hot and humid in the summer, which makes it much harder to make Yugwa.
If you put grain in an airtight container and heat it, a massive amount of pressure is created on the grain. If you open the lid at this moment, the grain becomes several times to dozens of times bigger in volume. This is called Bbeongtwigi in Korea (also known as rice puffs to non-Koreans). It is mainly sold at a Korean market; sometimes in bags at a supermarket It is also often sold on jam-packed roads and is one of the most popular snacks in highways. Sometimes, you can even see a major retailer that reserves a section of a floor where they make Bbeongtwigi in real time and sell it right there. Because you can blow up the size of a small amount of grain, it is often used as a “diet” food. However, Bbeongtwigi is made out of grain that contains a large amount of carbohydrate, so you will gain weight if you have too much of it. Also, because Bbeongtwigi is perfect for munching on when you are bored, it’s easy to binge on it. But then, it’s made with real grain and fried with pressure, as opposed to oil, so it’s low in calories and somewhat healthy, which makes it a pretty neat snack, and probably a lot better for you than oil-fried snacks covered in artificial condiments.
Matbam is made by processing Danbam which is a type of small chestnuts. The manufacturer peels off actual Danbams and processes them, so in commercials, they really emphasize that they are made out of 100% chestnuts. Matbams are basically a commercialized version of roasted chestnuts, but unlike roasted chestnuts, they have a moist texture. This is because Danbams contain lots of water; even the Danbams sold on the streets are pretty moist. Compared to roasted chestnuts or other processed foods sold on the streets in winter, Dalbams are often considered to be worth way more than they cost. So if you are a fan of chestnuts, give it a try.
Goraebap was first introduced by the confectionery company Orion in March, 1984. It is mixed with marinade, and each piece is about the size of a pinky finger. The pieces come in various shapes,, such as fish, whale, octopus, squid, shark, starfish, blowfish, turtle, and crab. It’s empty inside, and kinda hard, so sometimes the sharp crumbs can hurt the ceiling of your mouth. Goraebap has come out in a variety of flavors, but they are mostly salty and spicy.
Honey Butter Chip
Honey Butter Chip gained popularity over time through word-of-mouth on SNS. In fact, because of the low supply, there was a time when this snack was dealt at high prices in black market. Even though the name has the word butter in it, the snack itself doesn’t really contain much butter. So it’s not as greasy as it might seem, which makes this a popular choice for those who don’t like greasy food. One success factor of Honey Butter Chip is that it avoided the stereotype of potato chips being salty and it provides a harmony of sweetness and savoriness. It is said that acacia honey and French gourmet butter are used to create the flavor of this snack. After the tremendous success of Honey Butter Chip, a number of variations – the Honey Butter series, so to speak – were introduced, such as the Honey Butter Almond.