Many people now know about ddeokbokki, kimbap, and odeng, but Korean street foods so called bun-sik, 분식 might be less familiar. It’s the larger category of food, sometimes called school food that includes those dishes those as well as sundae and twigim. Here’s your guide to what to expect and what to eat at bun-sik!
Twigim on the left, ddeokbokki behind (the spicy orange sauce), breaded hotdogs and odeng on the far right.
Bun-sik is often sold in little stands at the side of the road, especially in areas with lots of students, or right outside of subway stations. It’s available all year round, and is relatively cheap. In the term bun-sik, sik means food, and bun is flour. This is because traditionally it involved dishes made from flour. However, these days it includes many different Korean snack & street food. Though most Korean cuisine has rice as a major component, bun-sik is unique in that it does not.
The most famous one is probably ddeokbokki, 떡볶이, or spicy rice cakes. Unlike western style dessert and sweet cake, it’s more like a dough or gelatin. The long pieces shaped like cylinders are cooked up in spicy gochujang hot pepper sauce. It is a little spicy, so be ready to have a drink to go along with it! You’ll probably be given a skewer to eat it and the other foods with instead of a fork or chopsticks.
The next one is Odeng, 오뎅! This is the Japanese version of the word, so feel free to use the Korean one – eomok, 어묵. The meaning is the same though; it’s a long fish cake on a stick. Eomok is cooked in a tasty and salty broth made of green onions and radish, which usually has a long ladle resting in the larger vat that the eomok is cooked in. You can use it to scoop yourself some into a little paper cup and drink it along with your snack. This is especially great when it’s cold out in the winter.
Sundae, 순대 is the rich and delicious black sausage. It’s usually cut off fresh from a much longer one. You can dip it into the ddeokbokki sauce to add some spice if you’d like, and it often comes with a little bit of dry salt on the side as well. It is made with pig intestines and clear glass noodles, but has a relatively mild flavour.
Kimbap, 김밥 is the little fresh roles with rice, sliced egg and ham, carrot, and sliced pickled radish inside. All the ingredients are wrapped in laver (a type of dried seaweed) before being cut into bite size pieces. Almost everything, including kimbap, can be dipped into the spicy ddeokbokki sauce as well. Kimbap comes in many flavours (tuna and other meat are very popular), but those are mostly sold in restaurants. The kimbap sold at bun-sik stores is usually just the basic kind.
Rolls of kimbap all lined up.
Twigim, 튀김 is the final common dish in bun-sik. It consists of assorted fried foods, especially vegetables (like sweet potato), or squid and shrimp. Some of the little kimbap rolls can also be fried and included, as well as mandu, 만두, small fried dumplings.
Bun-sik is one of the most fun and easy going styles of Korean food, which allows you to try many new flavours at once. Other than the dishes mentioned here, there are others that you might come across as well, like ramyeon noodles, 라면, dried fish juipo, 쥐포, or hoddeok doughnuts 호떡. Because it’s cheap and available, definitely eat it is a snack while traveling in Korea.