Koreans’ love for their ethnic street food dishes is well known. The tradition of Korean street food culture is very old, probably originated during the Joseon era. Truly ethnic Korean flavours in the form of spicy ‘tteokbokki’ snacks or flavours in the form of ‘bunsik’ dishes are aspects that most Koreans can’t live without.

Here we attempt to have a quick glance into the wide world of Korean street food.  We also look into the prominent dishes available in the street food Korean street food stallstalls and the history of this culture.

History of Korean Street Food Culture

The history of street food stalls in South Korea is very old. If we look at the timeline, perhaps the first Korean street food stall opened probably during 1300s, during the beginning of the Joseon dynasty of South Korea. The later part of Korean street food history says, these food stalls acted as the feeding homes for the refugees during the 1950s. At this point, the prominent dish available in Korean street food stalls were the fish cakes called ‘eomuk’, which had already arrived in Korean streets of Busan way back in 1876.

Later in the 1960s, traditional Korean steam buns with red bean paste were introduced to the Korean food stalls. Called “Jjinppang”, these steamed buns were made using fermented dough. Also, a non-fermented version of the steam bun was also available, which was known by the name “Hoppang”.

Korean street food stalls in the 1970s saw the advent of the well-liked Korean signature dishes like “tteokbokkis” and “gimbaps”. 2 decades later, in the 1990s, Korean food stalls became more flexible by adding a range of dishes from foreign countries. Western-inspired items like ice-creams, grilled cheese, waffles, hotdogs, churros, and more began to be sold along with traditional flavours during this period. The diversity of items presently includes dishes like kebabs even from the Middle East.

Features of South Korean Street Food Stalls

Traditionally, a Korean street food stall is run by an aged man or a woman, whom people affectionately might address as ‘ajeossi’, meaning ‘uncle’ or ‘mister’, or ‘ajumma’, meaning ‘auntie’. The dishes sold in these outlets usually have common features like visual appeal and good flavour.  The vendors often make the dishes in front of the customers in a very appealing manner sometimes by making use of the skilful movement of the hands providing a sort of entertainment to the customers. Also, the food ordered is served in a very short time span that does not usually exceed 3 or 4 minutes.Korean Street Food Stall

Street food stalls in South Korea are set up usually in three formats. The first one is in the form of a small tented area, which is called ‘Pojangmacha’ in traditional Korean language. ‘Pojanmacha’ means ‘snack carts’ or ‘covered wagon’. They sometimes feature larger wheels for mobility, even though it may not be the case always. A large diversity of Korean street food items are sold in such food carts including tteokbokki, mandu (Korean dumplings), gimbap, and so on.  Traditional Korean alcoholic drinks such as soju are also sold in Pojangmachas especially in the evening; since a type of Korean snack called ‘anju’ which usually is consumed with alcohol is also sold in these street food stalls.

The remaining two types of food stalls are either in the form of a bicycle or a truck. They are respectively called Food Bikes and Food Trucks. Food trucks and Food Bikes are relatively new in South Korea, which can be found mostly in parks.

Food Dishes Available in South Korean Street Food Stalls

Korean street food stalls feature a wide range of traditional Korean snacks and other dishes, and one of the most popular ones is Tteokkbokki. Tteokkbokki is a Korean stir-fried rice cake which is sometimes spelt as ‘topokki’, or ‘tteokk-bokki’. The first mention about Tteokkbokki rice cakes dates back to the 19th century where it was detailed in recipe books. They are made from ‘tteokks’, which are simple forms of Korean rice cakes.  The introduction of tteokkbokki rice cakes into the Korean food culture has influenced a number of Korean flavours including sauces, snacks and noodles. You can enjoy the flavour of Korean tteokkbokki rice cake by getting a bowl of YoungPung brand Yopokki rice cake or you can make it with Korean rice cake and Topokki Sweet Sauce.

Tteokkbokki is also available featuring the flavours such as seafood, short ribs (called galbi tteokkbokki), and instant noodles, called rabokki noodles. You can find a delicious tteokkboki flavoured rabokki noodles from Paldo brand here.

Apart from ‘Tteokkbokki’ rice cakes, fish cakes also are sold prominently in Korean street food stalls. Called ‘eomuk’, these fish cakes were introduced to Korean city of Busan during the 1940-50s. Eomuks became hot favourites of street food aficionados by the end of the last century only. Often prepared using the ground paste of low-fatted fish varieties like cuttlefish, eomuk is usually served with a savoury broth for dipping.  

Korean street food

Another variety of dish available in the South Korean street food stalls is a fish-shaped pastry called ‘Bungeo-ppang’. Although shaped like a fish, and even named after a fish (Bungeo means Carp fish), Bungeo-ppang contains no fish ingredients at all, but is made of red bean paste and other toppings.

Apart from these items, Korean Mandu is a hot favourite sold in the Korean street food stalls. Mandus are Korean alternative for Chinese dumplings. Mandus are available in steamed, boiled, pan-fried and deep-fried varieties. To enjoy the flavour of a Mandu dish, you can try the products by the Korean company CJ Bibigo. Bibigo offers pork and kimchi mandu and barbecued mandu in frozen packets.

Many other dishes are also popular with Korean people when it comes to Korean street food. The list includes ‘matang’, which is a sort of candied potato in sweetened glazed sauce, ‘Pajeon’, a sort of Korean pancake, ‘Chaltteok’, a kind of glutinous rice cake, ‘Ppopgi’, a candy, ‘Hotteok’, a Chinese-influenced pancake with sweet filling, ‘Gyeran-ppang’, an egg bread, ‘Dak-kkochi’, a type of Korean chicken skewer, and the list goes on. It is also to be noted that, many foreign dishes are served in Korean street food stalls nowadays in addition to the traditional flavours.

Try to recreate your own Tteokkbokki dish at home with our simple recipe:

Spicy TTeokbokki (Topokki) Rice Cake - Recipe