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Are you visiting Korea anytime soon? In that case, you should definitely try some traditional Korean snacks. While modern snacks are easily accessible and cheap, traditional Korean snacks tell you more about Korean culture and people. They also have many health benefits.
Korean food is amazing. It’s hearty, warming, and simple. Made with fresh, local ingredients, it hits all the right spots. And their traditional Korean snacks are no exception.
Everyone has their own opinion, but I find myself irresistibly drawn to traditional Korean snacks every time I visit. The unique flavors make it a must have on my list of treats to try. From sweet and salty combinations to tangy and savory pairings, texture and flavors combine for a memorable experience.
Some of my favorite traditional Korean snacks include tteok, yakgwa, gimbogak and mandu, all dishes (and more) I am excited to share in this post.
Adventures in taste await with these supremely delicious traditional Korean snacks – definitely worth trying during your next visit to the Korea or the market!
But don’t worry, if you are looking for more modern Korean Snacks or even Korean Candy, I’ve got you covered in my blog. There I talk about the infamous honey butter chips, choco pie, milk chocolate, dried squid and so many more authentic Korean snacks.
Read all the articles and prepare for a wonderful Korean picnic — all these foods are perfect to take outdoors and level up your picnic game!
Speaking of game, what better way to eat traditional Korean food than to eat and then play some Korean traditional games! For a full list of must try games, I’ve got you covered.
Health Benefits of Traditional Korean Snacks
Before giving you the list of must-try sweet and savory traditional Korean snacks, I wanted to share some of the health benefits. As you may already know, Korea is one of the countries with the healthiest populations.
The average life expectancy in Korea is 85 years, and less than 14% of South Korea’s population has diabetes. A big part of why Koreans are so healthy is because of how they eat. And, like many other Asian countries, South Korea has known times of hardship and famine.
This has led to their snacks having more substance and nutritional value than in many Western countries. As a result, Korean snacks tend to be more filling. They also usually contain some carbs (like rice, red beans, or sweet potato) to warm you from the inside.
Traditional Korean snacks are free of unnecessary additives, sugars, and preservatives simply because they never had the luxury to those ingredients. They also usually contain some vegetables, which increases your fiber and vitamin intake. Furthermore, Koreans just love snacking in general. This is why there are so many nutritionally dense traditional snacks.
Here are some health benefits of traditional Korean snacks:
- Packed with fiber and vitamins to keep your immune system strong.
- Warming or cooling to help the body adapt to the weather.
- Beneficial for the digestive system.
- Contains multiple portions of your daily fruit and vegetable intake.
- Prevents blood sugar spikes by keeping added sugar to a minimum.
- Delicious and nutritious.
Considering these are merely some of the health benefits of traditional Korean snacks, it’s no wonder why so many people have started researching them for a healthier lifestyle. But what are some of the best traditional Korean snacks? Here are the Korean snacks name in Korean and English for your convenience.
Traditional Korean Snacks that are Sweet
Being a sweet tooth, I am always sniffing out the best sweet Korean snack the country offers. And, while there are plenty of modern Korean sweets, like dalgona candy, let’s dive into traditional Korean sweets.
As mentioned above, traditional Korean sweets don’t have as much sugar as western sweets. So, you may have to adjust your expectations somewhat. Nevertheless, traditional Korean sweets are slightly sweet and delicious.
야식— Sweet Rice Dessert
Sweet rice dessert, or (야식= Yaksik), is a traditional Korean dessert made with rice, chestnuts, dried berries, and pine nuts. This warm and aromatic dessert is instantly soothing. It is popular in winter, and plenty of warming spices are added to the rice. This makes the dessert warm and filling.
Yasik also has a double meaning. It literally means “evening snack time.” Yasik (the sweet rice dessert) can be eating at night. So, you eat Yasik at Yasik.
But you can certainly have Yasik (snack time in the evening) with many other traditional Korean snacks, too.
떡 – Rice Cakes
If you’ve ever visited any Asian country, you would have seen that most of them have some version of rice cakes. They look like pretty rice pastries and have a soft, gelatinous texture, where some reminds me of a dense marshmallow.
Here are a few of the most popular traditional Korean rice cakes, but if you would like a full comprehensive list with descriptions, please let me know in the comment section below:
송편 – Songpyeon
Usually half-moon shaped sweet rice with a red bean filling in the middle.
가래떡 – Garaetteok
These are usually long and cylindrical in shape. Mostly used in the modern tteokbokki dish. I personally love toasting these and dipping them in honey.
인절미 – Injeolmi
These pillowy marshmallow shaped rice cakes are dusted in mildly sweetened and toasted soybean powder.
꿀떡 – Kkultteok
Otherwise known is honey rice cake is similar to songpyeon except its round and has honey and sesame seeds in the center.
무지게떡 – Mujigaetteok
A personal favorite, this rice cake is known for its simple fluffy flavor and colorful layers. Many of these rice cakes are used for special celebrations and this one is almost always in the party.
영양떡 – Yeong-yangtteok
This nutritious rice cake is loaded with various beans, legumes, and dried fruit on top. A sweet treat having elders wanting more.
술떡 – Sultteok
This is a Korean rice wine based rice cake. It looks similar to the rainbow rice cake but it tastes different.
시루떡 – Sirutteok
This special rice cake uses a couple types of beans – mainly red beans – which are layered on the top and bottom of a white rice cake.
These Korean rice snacks are enjoyed throughout the year. However, they are especially sought after during the lunar new year celebrations, birth milestone celebrations (such as doljanchi), and many other major holidays in Korea.
The wonderful thing about modern day technology is that you can now order many of these Korean snacks online. Some even come in Korean snacks box if you are near by a provider.
With all your favorite Korean snacks, always remember to prepare something to help wash it all down with the best non-alcoholic drinks such as sikhye (Korean rice drink), strawberry milk, or even the refreshing taste of Korean sodas!
다식- Tea Cookies
The best Korean snack for many is the infamous tea cookies, or Dasik. Dasik are a traditional Korean sweet treat that looks more like something you can find worldwide. These elegant Korean rice cookies are made with sesame seeds and natural colorants. They are pressed into specific molds to give them intricate designs.
Dasik was often served when important guests visited during the Silla and Goreo dynasties. These cookies are slightly sweet and have pastel colors based on the ingredients used to make them.
There are Korean snacks to make at home such as sweet rice cakes, but I would prefer purchasing dasik only because the perfect dasik can take a lot of time and energy.
약과 – Honey Pastries
Honey pastries are delicious layers of delicate pastry that are deep-fried and soaked in a honey and ginger sauce. These pastries, known as Yakgwa, are a specialty during Korean festive times. They are often topped with chopped nuts and provide a delicious texture.
They are characterized by sweet honey taste, combined with the mild and warming touch of spices. A perfect recipe for a winter celebration!
The final range of flavors on your palette will be rounded off thanks to the gentle hint of ginger, leaving you wanting more. The irresistible tastes embodied in this combination creates perfect recipe for any holiday feast.
단팥죽 – Sweet Red Bean Porridge
This is my mother’s favorite traditional Korean snack as she just knows how to make it just right.
Sweet red beans are often used in traditional Korean desserts. They are slightly sweet and have a velvety texture when blended. Sweet red bean porridge looks like soupy chocolate oatmeal. It has a beautiful light texture and a complex flavor. While sweet red beans are sweet, they also have a unique earthy flavor you often get from beans.
Glutinous rice flour is added to the red bean paste to give it more texture. Danpatjuk (sweet red been porridge) is served warm. It is a sweet porridge that is perfect for cold days. When it comes to Korean sweet snacks, I highly recommend trying danpatjuk with mochi pieces (tteok).
Savory Korean Traditional Snacks
If you don’t have a sweet tooth and prefer savory snacks instead, don’t worry. Korea has plenty of traditional savory snacks perfect for anyone. Like their sweets, most traditional Korean savory snacks also have starches or carbs as their base. This means that the snacks will be more filling.
Koreans are known for the flavor and aromas full of their dishes. It is only natural, then, that you’d be sure that the snacks that they serve would also be equally delicious. Every region in Korea has a specialty to offer when it comes to dishes.
Appearances can be deceiving, but when it comes to Korean cuisine you can bet on its deliciousness each and every time. From savory pancakes to warm mandu – there’s certain yumminess with every plate you can take part in!
전 – Korean Savory Pancakes
Talk about easy Korean snacks. This one is for you. Koreans love savory pancakes, and they have many versions around the country. If you’re in Korea, this is a must Korean street food to try. You’ll find a variety of various pancakes depending on where you’re at.
Some pancakes have grated potatoes as a base (gamjajeon). Others have a simple flour base and are flavored with fermented kimchi (kimchijeon), mung bean (binddaetteok), or rice flour and green onions (pajeon).
Most pancakes are savory and served warm. They often have vegetables or seafood in the batter to make it a filling and well-rounded snack.
These are very easy to make Korean snacks. Some recipes only require a few ingredients. I’m always trying to test different variations but my favorite is Korean chives with pancake batter and a side of soy sauce. Yum!
군고구마 와 김치 – Sweet Potato with Kimchi
You’re thinking, “how is this a savory snack?” Please let me explain. Of course, sweet potato by itself is not savory. However, in Korea many people love eating sweet potato with kimchi. Yes, Kimchi! The best spicy Korean snacks have some association with kimchi. How can you not love a spicy fermented cabbage?
The best way to prepare sweet potato and kimchi is simply roast the sweet potato in the oven until its nice and soft (back in the day they used wooden ovens, which brought out a subtle smokiness to the potato).
The best kimchi pairing for sweet potato is just the good old fashion sour napa cabbage kimchi (the sourer the better for me). I don’t like cutting my kimchi into bitesize pieces for this snack; rather, I like the kimchi long ways and wrap the sweet potato.
어묵 – Korean Fish Cake
Another traditional Korean snack you can find across the country is a Korean fishcake. Known as eomuk, Korean fish cakes are made with fish scraps, seasoning, and starch. You can find these Korean treats in Korean streets everywhere.
They are often sold on sticks and are perfect for dipping in soup because they absorb the flavors so well. Korean fish cakes have been eaten for more than 400 years in Korea and are a healthy and convenient snack.
Nowadays, if you’re in Korea, you can find Korean fish cakes on a stick in convenience stores. There are so many kinds that are studded with meat or marinated in spices. My personal favorite is the original. Nothing beats traditional classics.
For a classic Korean fish cake recipe, check out my tried and true recipe the next time you’re in the kitchen.
만두 – Korean Dumplings
Finally, one cannot forget about the humble dumpling when listing traditional Korean savory snacks. Korean dumplings are called Mandu and consist of a thin, doughy skin that is filled with meat, vegetables, or tofu.
The dumplings are often boiled, steamed, or fried. You can find Korean dumplings at nearly every market or vendor in the country. Korean mandu have been eaten in the country since the Goryeo dynasty.
There are subtle differences between Korean mandu and other dumplings from other countries. The main difference between Korean dumplings and other Asian-style dumplings is the type of dough.
While most other Asian dumpling recipes involve either wonton or gyoza wrappers, Korean dumplings are made with a stretchier dough (because it is made with rice rather than just flour) that is rolled out into thin sheets.
In addition to the dough, the filling for Korean dumplings tends to be more savory than in other types of dumplings, often containing kimchi and other spices.
If you would like to learn how to make Korean mandu, please let me know and I can add it to my list of Korean snack recipes to make.
Conclusion For All Things Traditional Korean Snacks
Since traditional Korean snacks are more filling and nutritionally dense than western snacks, they also offer more health benefits. Good Korean snacks will always have you coming back for more.
A tantalizing popular Korean snack will excite the tastebuds! Rice Cakes, Honey Pastries, and Tea Cookies fill the dessert menu with their deliciousness. For those desiring savory traditional Korean snacks, Korea offers tasty variations like Korean Fish Cake and mandu.
Can’t decide which Korean snacks to try? I mentioned Korean snack boxes above for rice cakes, but there are many Korean snack food boxes out in the market. They usually consist of the best Korean snacks trending today.
These items magically combine sweet and salty flavors for a distinct experience. Not to be forgotten are golden roasted Sweet Potatoes, made even better when topped with mouthwatering kimchi. Enjoy a taste of traditional Korean snacks!