Snacks to try in a Korean Convenience Store

So hopefully on your tour of Korea, you come here eating the best Korean food for your breakfast, lunch and dinner. But then there’s late at night when you are sitting in your hotel and wanting something quick to take back to your suite. There are convenient stores all over Korea. Pretty much on every major street corner you will find one, from the global chains to the local ones.

A lot of you will find your basic staples like Coca-cola, Minute Maid Orange Juice and Lays Potato Chips. But there’s a whole world of good eats sitting on the shelves that you probably would never even think of. Simply because you can’t read the labels or they look just so weird! No worries, we are here to help. I will walk us through a convenient store in Korea to talk about the things you shouldn’t miss out on. Or more importantly, what you should avoid!

 

1. Sahm-gak (Triangle) Kimbap: Traditional kimbap comes in rolls like something you might see in sushi. These are made in the triangle form, or sam-gak. They are basically sticky rice stuffed with different kinds of goodness, like beef, chicken, pork and other great things. There are the spicy and non-spicy. Veggie, tuna etc. And they are all wrapped in seaweed lavers to keep them nice and compact. Nice and cheap and great for on-the-go meals or simply a late night snack.

Pay attention to the instructions and illustrations on the back on how to open the packaging up. Otherwise you’ll end up unravelling the whole kimbap on yourself defeating the very purpose of its convenience!

Try the Mayo Tuna featured on this pic. My favorite.

Mayonnaise Tuna Triangle Kimbap

 

2. Doh-she-rahk: Or lunch boxes..but you can have them any time of the day. These are a meal in itself. Comes with rice, meat of choice and a set of side dishes (banchan) and are even more cheaper than going to a restaurant and getting the same thing. The quality of these things have gotten so much better and are the fastest growing items in convenience stores. Demand for cheaper quick meals and the rise of solo eaters have made a market for these. Also celebrity chefs have come up with their own recipes to help boost the appeal of these. Go before lunch and you will see these things piled up in the refrigerated section.

Black rice with spicy pork

 

3. Drinks: What you probably won’t figure out is the tea section. There are all sorts of teas that are extracts from Korean raisins to whiskers of corn husks. All of them are good for you and you can drink them as if they were just non-caloric flavored water. There are also the ones that are made for men, but quite frankly anyone can drink them. You won’t be disappointed with any one of the. As for my favourite drink, it’s a soft-drinks called Milkis. It’s basically like an A&W Cream Soda except its more milkier as the name might suggest.

Definitely a lot of stuff you won’t find back home but that’s what you are out here for, right? To try something new!
Women: Avoid this one at all costs! The character says man. This will grow you balls and chest hair. Just kidding! But yes, marketed to men.

 

 

 

 

 

Kok Kok! Kok

 

 

 

 

4. Ramyeon:  You will find that there is one whole section dedicated simply to ramyeon. Take your pick. I personally like the spicy ones but there are a lot of other good ones without all that kick. Then there are the soupy ramyeons and then the dry ones where you are supposed to drain the water out like the Kok-kok-kok series from the Oddugi brand. You fill them up with hot water just like any other instant noodles. But before you mix in the sauce, make sure to drain the water by lifting up the tag on the cover. Also there are special sections inside the convenient store where you can get hot water as well as dump out the broth in a garbage can.

5. Single-pack Ice cream: You can usually find these in refrigerators just outside the doors of the convenient store. There’s tons to pick from and you probably can’t go wrong with any of them unless you think that uhm, red beans shouldn’t be…sweet. (just want to remind one another of 3 words: Boston baked beans) Anyway, ice cream in Korea is served year round, yes and including winter. And, yes it gets extremely cold here. Remember, we are hosting the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, so it has to. And have you ever tried eating ice cream in the middle of winter? It’s not so bad and can be euphoric!

Just imagine: You are walking outside and it feels cold on the outside of your body. The inside of your body is warm. But then you eat ice cream. Your body on the inside is getting colder. Now since the outside of your body is cold and the inside of your body is cold, what happens next? Magic. You don’t actually feel cold anymore because the relative feeling of cold is less extreme. Got it? Now try it!

 

Oh yeah and talking about which ice cream to get…I personally love the watermelon ice cream. It’s got 3 different flavors all into one ice cream bar. It’s cut into a watermelon triangle and starts out by biting into the red watermelon flavored part of the ice cream – Awesome! The next thing you will notice is the seeds of the watermelon ice cream. They are made from chocolate covered nuts. And then lastly, is the watermelon rind which is a great finale to it because of its stark contrast in flavor against everything else – melon! Trust me, it all goes wonderfully together.

Su-bak Ba (Watermelon Bar)
Sorry, I couldn’t wait. Had to take a bite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now we can get into the classic must haves too, like banana flavored milk or honey butter chips, but I think there’s already been a ton written about those. You can also get a hot cup of brewed coffee for less than a buck from a machine. You can also get them iced by pouring pouch coffee into a cup of ice the convenient store gives you in the freezer section.

But if you say you’ve got a handle on Korean snacks in convenient stores and are ready for some expert level stuff, try concocting the Mark Special. If you need help translating or want to discover other great recipes, contacting one of our tour guides here.

They just sellin’ cups of ice??

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding the Korean Spice – And how to be at one with Kimchi

I get a lot of tourists saying to me, “Rob, I’m a foodie! Take me some place good to eat where all the Koreans go!” Or, “Rob, I’m an adventurous eater! I want to try new things!”.
Seeking out for some of the exotic
Seeking out for some of the exotic
I say, “Alright, let’s do it! I know just the place”
And they say, “But nothing spicy. I don’t like spicy.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 9.22.30 AM And then my mouth just drops. Whaaaaaa?? How can you tell me you are any sort of self-respecting adventurous eater of foodie, if you can’t indulge in anything spicy? It is the crux of Korean cuisine and the centerpiece of every dining table here. Look, I get it. You were hurt once. Stung…and you don’t want to feel the pain of it again. But that was years ago…it’s time to move on!

kimchi
kimchi

The Korean spice is a very different kind of spice. Other spices will give a sharp sting on contact and leaving a lingering singe in your mouth. Others you’ll feel it after you ingest it as it makes its way through your stomach and eventually scorches the other end of your gastro-extremities. The basic Korean spice is a bit of a warming spice. You won’t feel it right away, but as you fill your stomach with beef, rice and kimchi. And more beef, more rice and more kimchi…you’ll start to notice some tingling sensation in your taste buds. Things are starting to get warmer but you can consume it at a pace where you don’t overwhelm your mouth with any singular flavor.

soon dubu jiggae
soon dubu jiggae

Continue reading Understanding the Korean Spice – And how to be at one with Kimchi

How to go Ice Fishing in Korea

I finally got out to visit one of the many ice fishing festivals that take place in Korea’s wintertime. Through one of my tours, I was able to take a group to the Jaraseom Sing Sing Ice Fishing Festival in Gapyeong. The things to do here is to catch fresh water trout and eat it immediately! Many back and forth thoughts on these festivals, but the bottom line is that they are just flat out fun! There are at least half a dozen ice fishing festivals taking place in parts of Gangwon and Gyeong-gi Provinces right now and will mostly end sometime towards the last weekend in February. I came onto a lesser advertised festival called the Jaraseom Sing Sing Winter Festival near Nami Island in Gapyeong just a little over an hour from Seoul.

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When we got there, they let us park on an empty field. Because its not paved, watch out for puddles and mud when walking towards the festival’s main area. Walk towards the ticket booth to get your entry into the frozen stream. Tickets were 13,000 won (a little less than $13), but they give you a 5,000 won gift certificate to be used on anything at the festival, including food and fishing equipment.

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As you are walking towards there, several things come to mind. On one hand you are wowed by the shear number of people standing on top of that frozen pond. And to think, there are drilled holes in the ice about 3 meters from one another where you stick your fishing rods in to catch fish, so the ice has to be super thick.

On the other hand, you notice that there is a massive river right next to the pond and NONE of which is frozen at all! What’s up with that?? That’s when things start to kick in about the authenticity of the ice festival. Being on the 38th parallel, we have volatile weather conditions, so its not going to be frozen over the entire winter. Instead we artificially freeze the part of the stream to ensure the safety that no one plops through.

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Authentic or not, it’s not the point of the festival as there are still tons of people out there having a great time. So as soon as you pay for your entrance, follow these instructions to get the most out of your ice fishing experience:

1. They’ll give you a sticker ticket and a fastener. Loop the fastener into one of your zippers and peel the sticker portion of your ticket onto it, much like you would for a ski lift ticket. Make sure it’s visible for the personnel to see. A picture of the ticket is shown at the top of this post.

Continue reading How to go Ice Fishing in Korea

8 Things Commonly said by Tourists visiting Korea

Happy New Year 2015! And may this year be another great year for people to come to Korea.

A very rare species in Korea:  The Garbage Can
A very rare species in Korea: The Garbage Can

Being a tour guide in Korea, it’s funny to hear some of the same comments and questions over and over again from tourists. In doing so I’ve compiled some the top 8 as well as responses to debunk a lot of what is said or misconceived about Korea. Whether you are visiting Korea or are an expat entertaining guests who visit here, it’s good to equip yourself with some knowledge on how to address some of these observations. 1. “Since Korea is home to Samsung, Galaxy phones must be cheaper. Where do I get one?”Wrong. Samsung phones, as well as a lot of other products of Korea are actually more expensive here than anywhere else in the world. Even with the taxes and tariffs, you are better off buying them where you are from. Samsung claims that they are being fair with the prices due to the difference in “distribution systems”. What does this mean? Probably something to do with the vast competition other markets have vs Korea’s limited competition (which in turn creates a cartel). Whatever the reason is, bottom line: Samsung products are NOTICEABLY more expensive in Korea when in fact they are originated from here. In fact, a great gift for your hosts in Korea would be to bring them a new Samsung phone.

The Galaxy S5 phone sells for 918,800 Korean Won or approximately $830USD
The Galaxy S5 phone sells for 918,800 Korean Won or approximately $830USD

* On a side note: Because of this oligopoly, it tempts other foreign companies to come in and take advantage of us as well. Take for instance H&M and more recently IKEA. These companies are globally known as cheaper brands, but when they first came to Korea, they tried to charge higher than their normal prices here. They soon lowered their prices after informed netizens called them out on this. Too bad Korean netizens don’t have power over our home grown companies. I really need a Hyundai right now. 2. “Ooh, they have cider at this Korean restaurant. Let’s order that!” – Wrong. Cider in Korea is not the alcoholic drink that you are thinking of. It’s actually a word to describe a non-alchoholic carbonated drink similar to that of Sprite or 7-Up. So if you order cider at a restaurant, often times you will get that or a Korean local take on the beverage with Kin or Chilsung Cider which tastes lighter. Cider one of those English loan words that have been beaten up pretty bad after being loaned over two times through the Japanese Occupation (1910 – 1945). If you can just imagine a Japanese person back then trying to show a Korean how sophisticated they were with English you would come up with words like nan-ning-gu (난닝구) and bban-seu (빤스). Sound familiar? Somewhat? Kinda? It’s a derivative of the words “running-shirt” and “pants”, but you have say it a couple times in your head before you can actually make the connection. You then have to take it to the second-derivative to fully understand that it actually means…hold it…wait for it… “tank top” and “underwear”, in the Korean language. You can’t call this Konglish because it’s not our fault. But older-generation Koreans will use the words back at foreigners fully expecting that they will understand it thinking it’s English.

it's not what you think it is
it’s not what you think it is

Continue reading 8 Things Commonly said by Tourists visiting Korea

5 Reasons why we pay $4 for a Cup of Coffee in Korea

There are more Starbucks within the city limits of Seoul than any other city in the entire world, according to Quartz. Now that’s a statement to start with. Yet this is only the beginning of how rampant the coffee culture has grown in Korea.

IMG_3211 Part of the reason is that it’s the only thing they recognize since most other signs naturally are in Korean. But for the most part, we love our coffee and take that love affair to an extreme.

Coffee shops like Caffe Bene, Tom ‘n Toms, Edyia Cafe are now bidding up all the real estate prices of every street corner in Seoul. Even non-traditional cafe companies like Nescafe are trying to get in on the action. What is it about the coffee culture here that even with all the competition we have, we still manage to pay at least $4 a cup? It could be a cartel, but we have our theories:

Continue reading 5 Reasons why we pay $4 for a Cup of Coffee in Korea