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.
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.
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.
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.
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.