What are the best traditional Korean snacks?
We love raiding the biscuit tin in the UK — and there’s a special place in our hearts for tea and a crumpet — but Koreans take snacking even more seriously. If you haven’t tried any Korean snacks yet, but you love trying new foods, you’re in for a treat. Korean snacks are some of the tastiest snacks invented! From fiery wasabi crispy nori snacks to mild honey cookies, read on to find out what the best traditional Korean snacks are. You’ll want to try them all…
What are the best traditional sweet Korean snacks?
Yakgwa (honey cookies)
Yakgwa is a traditional honey cookie, a treat named after its health benefits and sweetness (yak — medicine, gwa — sweet). The ingredients are simple, including honey, ginger, rice wine and sesame oil. The cookie almost looks too good to eat; it’s shaped like a perfectly moulded flower (there isn’t a petal out of place: they are flawless). In the UK, we bake cookies or biscuits in the oven, but honey cookies are deep fried. Traditionally honey cookies were eaten on special occasions, but today they are served in cafes, ideal to eat with a cup of tea when you need something sweet.
Songpyeon (rice cakes)
Rice cakes, also known as tteok, are a staple in the Korean diet. You will see many savoury rice-based snacks such as crunchy rice crackers, along with spicy rice cakes (tteokbokki).
Songpyeon is a sweet treat, and arguably the prettiest snack you’ll ever eat. The traditional shape is a half-moon, but a quick Google and you’ll see the huge variety of delicate, Instagrammable designs. They are crafted in an assortment of colours using natural ingredients such as cinnamon, mugwort, gardenia seeds and dried fruits. Songpyeon usually have creamy, sweet red bean paste in their centre. The taste is similar to Japanese mochi, which also has a red bean filling, but the texture is different. Songpyeon aren’t as soft and smooth as Japanese mochi; they are more sticky and less sweet.
Once the ingredients have been put together, songpyeon are steamed on a bed of pine needles to stop them sticking to the bottom of the steamer pan, giving a fragrant pine aroma. There’s something really special about the addition of the pine needles to the process. As impressive to look at as they are to taste, songpyeon are said to signify wealth and prosperity and are often eaten during Chuseok (the autumn harvest festival).
Dalgona (honeycomb candy)
Dalgona is a popular Korean snack, famous for the game ppopgi (meaning ‘to pick’). You may have seen this candy in the Netflix series Squid Game. A dalgona has a shape stamped into the centre of the candy and the aim is to eat around the outline. If you can bite around the honeycomb without it cracking, you can eat another one! (Well, that’s our rule…).
This was a very popular game in Korea during the 1960s and 1970s. Vendors would sell dalgona outside schools and the children would try not to break the central shape as they ate (a star, an umbrella…). Vendors were known to give a free dalgona to children who succeeded. Today, this is a fun, sweet snack to make with the whole family — kids will love making patterns and shapes in the sugary candy mix.
What are the most popular savoury Korean snacks?
If you love eating squid, you’ll love this delicious snack. It’s a bit like beef jerky in texture and full of protein. If this snack is new to you, the fact that they look, well, like dried squid, and not covered in batter calamari-style, might slightly disconcert you. But if you think nothing of having some fried squid with your rice; you’ll soon be hooked!
Seaweed is known as a superfood, jam-packed with nutrients. What better way to make sure you get your intake than seaweed rice crisps? Finally, a healthy snack which is also moreish!
Instant ramen is one of the most popular Korean foods. It was first introduced to Korea in the 1960s and soon became immensely popular. Instant ramen are precooked and dried (with toppings and broth usually included in sachets) and this means that they can be stored for a long time. So it’s easy to keep a stock in your kitchen cupboard. The ideal snack, a noodle cup is great if you need something substantial in between meals. The iconic kimchi ramen noodles are a Korean favourite, and our Kelly Loves kimchi ramen noodles are authentic.
If you’re looking for variety and a taste sensation, Korean snacks have these in bucket loads. Many traditional Korean snacks can also be eaten as a meal; there’s so much flexibility. The best traditional Korean snacks mirror the complex tastes found in Korean meals: umami, spicy, salty and sweet. For those with a sweet tooth, there are plentiful candies, cookies and cakes. Seafood is a prominent element, especially seaweed, squid and prawn. And there are often spicy ingredients added to Korean food, reflected in popular Korean bites like wasabi crispy nori snacks. Lucky for us, authentic Korean snacks are available through Kelly Loves. What will you try next?