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??

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes Tourists make in Korea (part 2 of 2)

So last week I wrote up a post about the top common mistakes tourists make when they come to Korea. It was getting to be long so I broke it up into two parts. That was 1 through 5 and now I’m presenting the last 5 this week. They come in no particular order. Again, nobody is going to put you down for committing any of these, but it’s just good to know before coming here.

  1. They try to give tips – There’s no tipping culture in Korea. Do not tip your taxi drivers nor your waitresses. With customer service in Korea, you get 5 star service regardless of a tip or not because it’s already embedded in the price. It’s part of the reasons why a Samsung phone costs more in Korea than anywhere else in the world. No need to tip. The last thing we need in our economy is more inflation or worse…people expecting or demanding tips. If you really want to do something for us, a gift from where you are from is always a nice gesture.

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    15%, 25%? Pre-tax? Post-tax? No need to stress about that stuff here in Korea!
  2. Being afraid to ask for directions – When you first walk down the streets of Seoul, you may notice that people don’t really have expressions on their faces. They may seem cold or look unapproachable. But deep down inside what you will find is that the Korean people are extremely friendly. We are a society that is based on Confucian principles. One of those values is that it is considered rude to show in public, emotions that you are overly happy or even sad. People tend to mask this by maintaining the neutral face that you see. With that said, I wouldn’t just jump in front of people and ask for directions. They will run away. I suggest the slow, i-look-kind-of-lost-type-of-face approach while clenching onto a map. And don’t be afraid if you think that they might not speak English. The younger generation can speak enough to at least point you in the right direction. Don’t expect a full blown conversation, but they would be happy to help out and practice their English on you.

    SJC_Gangnam_-25
    I.Seoul.U
  3. They don’t visit the DMZ because they are afraid of North Korea – I get a lot of customers who tell me they don’t want to visit the DMZ because they are afraid of North Korea. And then I look at them strangely, “Yet, you came to Seoul which is only 40KM away is perfectly fine?!?” So I’ll put it to you like this: If North Korea ever attacked South Korea, the DMZ is the last place they would start (JSA – The Joint Security Area for that matter). It is just as much a tourist spot for North Korea as it is for South Korea. If they were to attack, then they would probably start somewhere like the maritime borders like they did last time or just straight up bomb Seoul like they did at the start of the Korean War. Just go to the DMZ.

    DMZ at JSA
    The North Koreans putting on a show for us. Bravo. Well worth the price of the tour! It was better than Cats!
  4. They go with an travel agent that puts ginseng or raisin extract store on the itinerary – Or amethyst, seaweed or cosmetics store. Don’t get me wrong. Ginseng and raisin extract are great products of Korea and you should buy them as souvenirs. In fact, I live by ginseng and eat it all the time. But when you see it on the itinerary from the tour companies, you should beware. This may be a tourist trap – literally. They trap tourists in a room where a someone tries to sell you this stuff. There are no prices listed anywhere so it’s easy for them to jack up the price and they close the entry door on you. A lady will then start explaining the health benefits to it and give you a demonstration on how to use the product. Sure, there’s value in that and there’s no pressure to buy plus it might even lower the price of your tour, but you waste a lot of your limited time in Korea there. Your vacation ain’t that long!

    Cheong-Kwan-Jang
    If you really want ginseng, I would feel much better taking you to a Cheong-Kwan-Jang which can be found on any street corner in Korea with reasonable prices.
  5. They did not get a tour guide – As much as it seems like a plot to plug our services, it’s true. Even though Korean is a developed nation, it’s still very raw. We don’t have the tourism infrastructure that other countries have so it’s tough to go at it alone. Especially when you are trying to get outside of Seoul, you waste a lot of time with the language barrier and unfamiliar systems. A good Korean tour guide will tidy all that up for you. Sure you can read up on travel guides and blogs on how to get around, but the reality is that it’s pretty tough once you are here. And if you try to go about the palaces alone, they just become empty buildings with no character. You need a great guide to bring that all to life for you and tell you the stories that really makes these places so amazing.
    I say this because the last thing I want you to do is leave here with a bad experience or worse yet, leave here more confused than you did before coming here.

    USD Tour
    You are going to leave here so educated on Korea. You all are Korea experts now!

Some praise from our fans: Day Trip in Seoul, The Best Korean Tour Guide

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Common Mistakes Tourists make when visiting Korea (part 1 of 2)

So I’ve been a tour guide in Korea for a while now. During these years, I’ve seen a common pattern of tourist behavior. There’s the good, the ugly and then the totally innocent mistakes. I have jotted down what I believe are the top 10 common (and honest) mistakes they make when coming to Korea.

We all have our share of honest mistakes we do when going overseas simply because we are not privy to the local culture. We may or may not even be aware of them because they can be so subtle.  Hopefully there can be more of these posts to pinpoint faux pas in other countries. Here I list out the first of five in no particular order. The second 5 are here.

    1. The bill – Many times on tours, I’m at restaurants eating with the tourists. At the end of the meal, there’s always this awkward silence. At first I’m thinking, “Do they not like the food?? Or are they suggesting to split the bill? Then I think oh man, “I forgot to tell them! They don’t know about the bill culture in Korea”. Call it part of our culture or just call it the way things are done here. In restaurants in the western world, the waitresses will bring the check to you. You then pay at the table. In restaurants in Korea, you pay for the bill at the front counter from where you came in. Tourists not otherwise knowing will wait to pay the check at the table…and they will sit there all day.

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      Don’t just sit there…Do something!
    2. Crossing the street – I hear it all the time. This blaring alarm when I cross the street. Usually in major tourist areas. Someone did it again…I remember when I lived in the United States, when you wanted to get a green light to cross the street, you would have to push the button on the lamp. That would signal the stop lights to turn red so that pedestrians could cross the street. In Korea, the very location where that crossing button would be is another button designated for blind people. They push that button to get an audio on when they can cross the road. Honest mistakes I know. Newbies always press the disabled person’s button when trying to cross the road.

      These are not the crosswalk buttons you are looking for..
      These are not the crosswalk buttons you are looking for..
    3. Stepping on the ondol floors with shoes – I know, it almost looks like a step. So if I’m not the front leading the tour group, tourists will just step right onto the ondol floors in restaurants. This is where you are supposed to sit and eat. Honest mistake and it’s something that I take for granted. But I realize it’s not straight forward at all for the newbie. In a lot of restaurants in Korea, diners have the option to eat on the floor as opposed to the normal tables and chairs. Koreans like this option because we like to feel the heat on our butts. So again, this ondol floor looks like a step and tourists will walk right on it with their shoes if they are not forewarned. You are supposed to take off your shoes before stepping up there because you are going to be sitting on that floor. Usually it happens more often in big group tours where someone wasn’t listening on the bus.

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      Maybe it’s the color of the shoes against the backdrop of this floor…
    4. The exchange rate – Everyone gets ripped off with the exchange rate in every country I know. The issue is how much will you get ripped off. When I go around Korea on my tours, I always take notice of the USD/KRW exchange rate. The worst places to go:  Never exchange money at any bank, no matter how reputable it is. Never exchange money at the front desk of your hotel. I wouldn’t even exchange money at the airport for petty cash because most places will take credit cards on the way. The best rate in Korea can be exchanged at the currency stand directly in front of the Chinese Embassy in Myeongdong. There are other currency stands in Myeongdong with decent rates (and better than hotels and banks), but I’m telling you where the best one is. In fact, there are times where I went to the place across the Chinese Embassy and they gave me a better rate than what I saw on Googling the “USD to KRW” rate concurrently.

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      Find this stand directly across the Chinese Embassy in Myeongdong. It’s located behind the Post Office Towers there. Look for the red walls you see in the background of this picture.
    5. The escalators – There is this de facto rule in Korea. It states that all escalators have 2 lanes. The lane on the left is for walking up or down the escalator and the one on the right is for people who want to stand. The official rule though is to stand on both left and right. There are those that claim that walking on just one side damages the escalators and so requires frequent maintenance and tax money. So yes, sometimes you will be stuck behind someone who chooses to stand in the left lane or it might just be another tourist. But most people will agree that Seoul is a busy city and that the people are always on the go. And that time is the most precious thing in the entire world (not our tax dollars). So try to be conscious of this when using escalators in Korea.

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      Walk left, stand right..

Hope you enjoyed these and are well aware now for you trip to Korea. Come back next week when I list out the final 5 completing the top 10 list of common mistakes by tourists in Korea.

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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