The best way to show your love is to invite someone to your dinner table. Food is what brings our souls together: sharing a meal is an intimate part of building a relationship.
The cold winter season in Korea brings out all the delicious warm snacks destined to keep your belly full and your hands warm. Street food and snacks used to be eaten mainly by the locals and the poor because they were very cheap and could be served fast. Nowadays however, there are no distinctions between the locals and the poor, and street food and snacks are enjoyed by everyone, simply, since they are still very delicious, fast and cheap. So many childhood memories and history are attached to so many of the foods and snacks that we see on the street corners and in the markets.
As with most things, many of the foods we grew up with have been adopted from other cultures, but we have adapted these different foods to suit our taste, and have made them a part of our own culture.
A very popular Korean snack is the Bungeoppang, a sweet bread which is made in the shape of a goldfish, and it is stuffed with a variety of sweet and savory fillings. The most popular filling is red bean paste, and you can get 3 for 1000 won, or $1. I was curious to find out why these snacks was made in the shape of a goldfish, so I asked all my Korean friends, and they all gave me the same answer. The snack was brought over from Japan, and many years ago, fish used to be very expensive, so the snack was created in the shape of a fish to trick the mind into thinking you were eating a fish, I guess. But don’t quote me!
My favorite snack is Gungoguma. Gungoguma is literally a roasted sweet potato, and it is deeply rooted in Korean culture. Back in the day when homes used to be heated with hot stoves, on cold nights families would sit around the stove, roast sweet potatoes and tell stories. Gungoguma reminds me of when I was a child growing up in my country, Cape Verde, where during the harvest season, we would literally pull right out the ground sweet potatoes covered in dirt, and just brush the dirt off, dig a hole, place the potato in the hole, cover it with hot rocks and wait while it to cooked. Oh, man, that was the most delicious food ever! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Hotteok is a piece of fried dough filled with sugar, cinnamon and nuts. It is very cheap and tastes really good. I like mine extra crispy and thin. Depending on the stand or market selling it, you can get 2 or 3 pieces for 1000 won, or $1. It’s really good when it’s hot, and you can either eat it while standing there at the stand or get it to go. Usually the seller will give you a small paper cup to put the hotteok in so that you don’t burn your fingers. Be very careful when enjoying the delicious finger licking hotteok. The sugar and honey inside can be scalding hot. Be warned!
Hoppang is a hot steamed bun filled with various ingredients. This was brought over to Korea by the Chinese. The most common flavors in these buns are red bean paste, vegetables and pizza. The steam that comes from the big pot lets you know that you are in the right place, and there is usually a line waiting for the hot buns. They are so hot, and keep your hands so warm.
Walking down any Korean street during winter, your senses are attracted by the delicious, sweet smell of roasted sweet potatoes and roasted chestnuts; these are my favorite snacks to eat at any time of the year. However, roasted chestnuts are most commonly found during the winter season. There is nothing like coming down from a long hike in the mountains on a cold day and finding a local vendor at the bottom of the mountain roasting chestnuts. The hot and delicious chestnuts make the hike worthwhile.
Most of these snacks can also be found prepackaged at your local supermarket, but to get that real street food feeling you need to brave the cold and enjoy the sights, the sounds and the wonderful smells of all these delicious foods that invade your taste buds and your sense of smell as you to taste these local winter delicacies.