Shopping is an essential part of travel. Of the gift items available, many tourists choose to purchase local foods. Since some food items have a short shelf life, they require extra care and attention. Here are some Korean traditional food items that are popular and have a relatively longer shelf life.
Kimchiis Korea's representative healthy side dish and is made by fermenting salted cabbage, radish, fermented fish sauce and various vegetables in a red chili pepper sauce. The types of kimchi vary by region, season, and even the making process. There most representative varieties include baechu kimchi (kimchi), kkakdugi (diced radish kimchi) and yeolmu kimchi (young summer radish kimchi). Baekkimchi (white kimchi), a variety made without red chili pepper sauce, is popular among people who dislike spicy foods. Kimchi contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals, helping to strengthen one's immunity to bacteria and cancer.
Vacuum-packed kimchi can prevent any leaks and is recommended for travelers planning to take it home passed the stringent customs. Various vacuum-packed kimchi products are readily available in department stores, supermarkets, convenience stores and duty free shops.
Gochujang (Korean chili paste) is a traditional fermented condiment with a combination of sugary, salty and spicy tastes. It is made by fermenting a mixture of rice powder, Korean chili pepper powder, malt oil, fermented soybean powder, and salt. Gochujang contains an abundance of nutrients and the spicy taste that comes from capsaicin stimulates one's appetite and improves digestion.
Gochujang is packaged in plastic tubs or tubes with varying degrees of spiciness and can be found in supermarkets, convenience stores and duty free shops. The standard unit of spiciness, running from one to five, is ‘GHU’ (Gochu-jang Hot taste Unit). This unit system is handy for purchasing gochujang; the higher the unit, the stronger the spiciness.
Gim (laver), a popular item among tourists, is made from dried seaweed that contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. Five pieces of gim contain the same amount of protein as one egg, and the amount of vitamin A in one piece is equivalent to the amount found in two eggs. In particular, Korean gim has received much enthusiasm from international food connoisseurs for its unparalleled quality. Gim can be bought in bulk and is often well packaged, making for a luxurious souvenir.
Gim comes in a variety of types and packaging methods, which can be easily found in supermarkets. Since it is particularly susceptible to moisture and can easily go stale, it should be stored in an airtight container or bag.
Insam (Korean ginseng) is a root with a bitter taste and strong flavor that is named after its shape that resembles a human body. There are three types of insam: susam (fresh ginseng), which is unprocessed and picked right out of the field; baeksam, which is dried insam; and hongsam (red ginseng), which is steamed and then dried. Insam has long been used to boost one's health, with the effect varying by type, harvest time, and preparation method. The health benefits, including an immunity boost, help in fighting cancer, and a speedy recovery from fatigue, all come from the saponin and ginsenoside within the insam. There is an assortment of insam products on the market, ranging from extracts to hard candy and gummy snacks.
Insam is a high quality souvenir, and can be purchased in department stores, supermarkets, road shops and specialty shops. Also, most products have been packaged to enhance portability and convenience.
Ramyeon, Korean instant noodles, is the most popular instant food in Korea. It makes a good substitute for a hearty meal at a reasonable price. The low cost and easy cooking method have made ramyeon a popular souvenir for tourists to take home. While the most common ramyeon is spicy, there is a plethora of flavors available, from non-spicy broths to stir-fried noodles with cheese or spaghetti flavoring. Recently, extremely spicy noodles have become the new trend in Korea's instant noodle market.
Single packets or cup noodles can be found at small supermarkets or convenience stores. Large packets with bundles of five can be purchased at large supermarkets. The average shelf life for ramyeon packages is five months.
Baking & Cake Mixes
Recently, DIY home baking supplies in little boxes have been setting a trend in Korea. These cooking mixes are tailored to the needs of beginner bakers, as flour, sugar and other dry materials are precisely measured and packed. Packages come in a wide range of products, including basic baked goods such as cookies, breads and cakes as well as hotteok (sugar-filled griddle cake), haemulpajeon (seafood and green onion pancake) and even ice cream.
Depending on the cooking mix, special kitchen utensils and equipment, such as ovens, may be required. The mixes can be purchased at convenience stores, supermarkets, and department stores.
Korean snacks are not only tasty but also nicely packaged, making them a very popular souvenir. There is a wide range of snack items, from sweet snacks perfect as desserts, to salty snacks that stimulate your appetite and spicy snacks that are popular among Koreans.
Korean consumers have recently become more health-conscious and cautious about the ingredients that are used in snacks. As a result, many new products with high-quality organic ingredients are readily available as well.
Traditional Korean Snacks
The most representative traditional snacks in Korea are tteok (rice cakes) and hangwa (traditional Korean sweets). They can be eaten as everyday snacks, but are usually served on special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. They are most commonly found in supermarkets around the Seollal (Korean New Year's Day) and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) holiday periods. Rice cakes are made from steaming or boiling grain powder then shaped by hand into different shapes. In particular, the chewiness and soft texture is its unique aspect. Hangwa is made from flour or rice powder mixed with honey or malt oil. Depending on the individual recipe, hangwa can come in a variety of shapes, flavors, and textures. Yugwa (deep-fried sweet rice cake), yakgwa (traditional honey cookie), jeonggwa (fruits, plant roots, and seeds in sugar) and dasik (tea cakes) are the main types of hangwa.
Hangwa snacks are readily available in a range of prices in department stores and supermarkets. Gift boxes with a variety of hangwa snacks make great souvenirs.
Fruit vinegar is produced by fermented fruits, and has a sweet and sour flavor. It is known for its health benefits, such as improving one's skin tone, and effectiveness in relieving fatigue and constipation. The most common method to consume fruit vinegar is by mixing it with water. A 3:1 ratio of water to fruit vinegar is the general rule of thumb; the ratio can vary depending on personal preference in taste. A variety of fruit vinegar flavors are available such as pomegranate, blueberry, green grape, lemon, bokbunja (Korean black raspberry) and more. The vinegar can also be used to make fruit soju.
Fruit vinegar can be purchased in varying sizes in bottles of 50mℓ to 500mℓ, 900mℓ and 1.8ℓ. The shelf life is approximately 18 months from the date of manufacture. It can be stored at room temperature out of direct sunlight but needs to be refrigerated after opening.
Traditional Korean Alcohol
Much like beer in Germany, wine in France, and vodka in Russia, makgeolli and soju are the representative alcoholic beverages of Korea. Makgeolli is made from fermenting rice or wheat and has a smooth, milky color. It has a low alcohol content of 6-13% with a nutty and sweet flavor. Soju, a distilled alcohol with an alcohol content of about 20%, is popular in part due to its relatively low price. Recently, fruit-flavored soju has been gaining popularity for its sweet taste and less harsh smell.
Makgeolli and soju can be easily purchased in convenience stores, supermarkets and corner stores in even the smallest of towns. The packaging of soju varies from drink boxes to plastic bottles. As alcohol purchases by minors are strictly prohibited in Korea, a form of photo identification with the date of birth is required.
Traditional Korean Tea
Healthy and delicious traditional Korean teas are popular among tourists. Korea's traditional teas include nokcha (green tea), yujacha (citrus tea), maesilcha (green plum tea), mogwacha (Chinese quince tea), omijacha (five-flavor berry tea), and saenggangcha (ginger tea), as well as sikhye (sweet rice drink) and sujeonggwa (cinnamon punch). Nokcha is made from tea leaves that have a bitter and refreshing taste. While green tea is traditionally enjoy by steeping dried and roasted green tea leaves in hot water, these days green tea is available in powder form as well as in teabags. Yujacha, maesilcha, mogwacha, omijacha, and saenggangcha are made from fruits sliced and stored with sugar or honey. It can be mixed with warm water for a hot drink in winter, or with cold water for a refreshing summer tea; they can also be used as sweet toppings for bingsu (shaved ice), a summer desert in Korea. Sikhye is a sweet drink made with rice that aids with digestion. Sujeonggwa tastes sweet with a kick of spice; it contains ginger and cinnamon boiled in sugar water, which is chilled and served cold.
Traditional teas are available in supermarkets, department stores, and convenience stores. There is a wide variety of green tea products sold in the form of powder, teabags, or whole roasted leaves. Yujacha, mogwacha and saenggangcha are sold in glass jars but also come in the form of powder, packets or tea bags. Sikhye and sujeonggwa are sold in cans or plastic bottles.
This page was last updated on September 10, 2019, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here.