The birthplace of Gangam style, popular boy band BTS, and one of the world’s first ‘smart cities’, South Korea is a hub for culture and architectural wonder. Known officially as the Republic of South Korea, the country was formed in 1984 and has only continued to thrive and blossom since then, creating an enormous global influence along the way. The high tech nation is the birthplace of many famous electronic brands such as Samsung and LG but is also a mecca for nature lovers and adventurers with rugged mountaintops and densely forested national parks to discover. What makes this country so unique however, is their Asian cuisine. South Korea is world famous for dishes such as ‘kimchi’ and ‘bulgogi’ as well as their snacks which we will be taste testing this month. From headline grabbing chocolate pies, soy sauce flavored treats, and the famous bright red snack ‘tteokbokki’, it is clear to see why food is such an important part of South Korea’s culture.
Sweet and Spicy Wheat Snack
Meaning ‘stir-fried rice cakes’, tteokbokki is a famous, bright red dish that is widely popular throughout South Korea. This famous meal was so special during the Joseon dynasty, between 1392 to 1897, that the dish was only served to royals. It was made using noodle-like rice cakes that were brown and plainly flavored and while they were said to be quite bland, by the 1950’s, the dish had become widespread and was now served to the public. While tteokbokki is still around to the this day, the recipe has changed quite drastically over the years. Nowadays the dish is made using a pepper paste known as ‘gochujang’ that helps create the perfect sweet and spicy balance which can also be found in this wheat snack made to taste like the real deal.
Rating – 3/5
Green Tea Choco Pie
Chocolate Coated Green Tea Cake with Marshmallow Filling
Made using a creamy, milk coating as well as a fluffy, marshmallow filling to pair with the green tea flavoring, these cakes are a treat so amazing and loved that it managed to cross one of the most dangerous borders in the world, having been enjoyed by both South and North Korea since the 1970’s. It is said that these cakes were so loved that at one point in time they were given to factory workers in North Korea as a bonus. Over time, a black market for these green tea cakes was formed in the secretive country until it was brought to the attention of the country’s leader which in turn banned the choco pies in fear that they would become a symbol of capitalism. Activists in South Korea decided to take a stand and sent about 10,000 of these beloved cakes across the North Korean border by balloons in the hopes to satisfy the craving of their neighbors.
Rating – 3/5
Chocolate and Almond Coated Biscuit Sticks
For some people, whenever they see 11:11 on a clock, they use this moment to make a quick wish, a quirky little tradition that has been around for ages. In South Korea however, these numbers mean something completely different. Every year on the 11th of November, South Koreans celebrate a little something known as Pepero Day, where these biscuit sticks are given out to loved ones across the country. While it’s unsure how this unique tradition started, it is believed that it may have originated back in 1983 where it is said two schoolgirls exchanged Pepero hoping that the stick-like snacks would make them taller and thinner. Another possible origin stems from the fact that the crunchy, chocolate coated biscuit sticks resemble the number 1, hence the holiday being celebrated on 11/11. Regardless of how it came to be, Pepero Day accounts for 50% of all annual sales of the snack.
Rating – 5/5
Strawberry Sweet and Sour
Sour Strawberry Flavored Chews
Strawberries, the sweet and juicy red fruit that has become synonym with summer time, are also the star ingredient in these sour chews. In South Korea however, the fruit is not without it’s fair share of drama and controversy, especially after the country hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. During said Olympics, a Japanese athlete was photographed enjoying a strawberry and later went on to say how delicious it was. Though this may seem quite innocent, she actually ended up reigniting a decades long debate between Japan and South Korea with each country claiming that they are responsible for creating the best strawberries. While these sour chews aren’t controversial, they are packed with sweet strawberry flavoring paired with a tart, sour flavor to top it off.
Rating – 4/5
Soy Sauce Flavored Rice Crackers
Rice is an essential part to any type of Asian cuisine and in South Korea it’s no different. While rice is quite affordable nowadays with people of all classes being able to afford it, back in the day things were quite the opposite. Going as far back as 1500 BC, rice was used as currency in South Korea and was considered to be such a luxury food item that only the rich could enjoy it, even the farmers who grew the rice were considered to be too low class to have some. For centuries on end, it was said that you could determine someone’s social status based on the amount of rice that they had stored away. While these rice crackers may not bring fortunes, what they will deliver is a savory soy sauce flavoring in each bite, that pairs surprisingly well with the salty crackers.
Rating – 4/5
Cosmos Choco Corn
Chocolate and Coconut Flavored Corn Puffs
First introduced during the Korean War by Americans who were passing out Hershey’s chocolates to the Korean children, South Korea has now been in the chocolate business for sixty years. While that may not seem like an extremely long time, in that short time frame South Korea has still managed to create a chocolate business that is unlike anything in the world. After the war, chocolate businesses starting popping up like weeds everywhere throughout the country. These companies were quite different than the ones found in North America, as they didn’t focus on creating and selling chocolate bars but rather different recipes using chocolate. This innovation yielded many different snacks but the one we’ll be testing this month are these chocolate corn puffs with a light, crispy texture and chocolate and coconut flavors.
Rating – 4/5
Couque D’Asse White Torte
Sweet Biscuit with Mascarpone Cream Filling
With three different holidays dedicated to sweet treats, you could almost get the impression that the Koreans are trying to find excuses to indulge in sweets, which may very well be the case. Aside from Pepero Day and Valentine’s Day, South Koreans also celebrate another holiday known as White Day. Introduced in 1978, this holiday was created by Japanese women who wanted to have a day where their husbands had to get them sweets. The reasoning behind this was that they felt it was only fair seeing as Valentine’s Day in most Asian cultures involves the women giving men chocolates and candies rather than the other way around like what is the norm in most Western countries. This holiday now takes place on the 14th of March and is celebrated not only by South Korea but also by other Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, and China. On this day, women are showered with white cookies, chocolates, and candies making this white torte the perfect treat for White Day, with its sweet biscuit and white mascarpone cream filling.
Rating – 5/5
Cheddar Cheese Kettle Chips
Cheddar Cheese Flavored Potato Chips
If you thought you loved cheese, more than likely South Korea still has you beat on the amount of love they have for this food. To give you an idea how much this country loves their cheese, each year they spend over $500 million on cheese exports which makes them the third-fasting growing cheese market in the world. Their obsession goes as far as their clothing and their entertainment as well with pictures of cheese being found on t-shirts and sweaters and cafes that serve cheesecake in the shape of cheese wedges. They’ve even gone so far as to have an amusement park dedicated entirely to cheese, with kiosks teaching you how to make your own cheese and cheese-themed park rides. Evidently a trip to South Korea wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of cheese which is why these cheddar cheese kettle chips can be found in this month’s box, to give us a taste of South Korea’s cheese obsession.
Rating – 5/5
Crown Blueberry Vic Pie
Chocolate Covered Cookie with Blueberry Jam Filling
With a name like ‘victory pie’, this treat is sure to be a winner in everyone’s books. What makes it so special though, is what can be found inside of the crumbly texture and creamy chocolate coating of the cookie itself. Filled with a sweet blueberry jam, the tiny blue fruit used to make the filling has quite the success story in South Korea. For decades up until about 10 years ago, Koreans did not eat blueberries at all. When the international media dubbed the fruit a ‘super food’ however, everything changed, with demand for blueberries exploding. The country’s market for frozen blueberries increased twenty-fold within the span of 5 years with fresh ones even being imported into the country from as far as Chile and Oregon in the United States. Nowadays, farmers in South Korea grow their own blueberries with seven different varieties existing that are unique to the country.
Rating – 4/5
Chocolate and Hazelnut Cream Filled Wafer
Many different countries around the world have their own take on wafers, with multiple different shapes and flavors to choose from. South Korea is no different, with their version of the snack known in their country as Choco Heim. This crispy and creamy treat is highly popular throughout South Korea and was also voted to be the number one treat the last time Universal Yums ventured to the country, and there’s no wondering why. This hazelnut flavored wafer consists of a crispy, light vanilla wafer with a creamy, hazelnut filling on the inside, for a perfectly sweet and unique treat that will leave you wanting more.
Rating – 5/5
Hot Gangjung Chicken Snack
Sweet and Spicy Fried Chicken Flavored Corn Puff
What does South Korea and popular fast food chain KFC have in common? Fried chicken of course. As unusual as it may seem, fried chicken is now a huge part of South Korea’s cuisine ever since it’s introduction to the country during the Korean War. Before the war it was normal for chicken to be steamed but after the U.S troops showed them the deep-fried variety, it became an overnight sensation. While South Korea is now home to over 150 KFC restaurants, nothing compares to the 50,000 restaurants that serve local fried chicken known as ‘huraideu-chikin.’ This version involves frying the chicken twice which helps make it less greasy and more crunchy, which is then mixed into a variety of different sauces creating dishes as such ‘dakgangjeong’ a sweet and spicy chicken dish. The corn puffs found in this month’s box are actually inspired by this dish, with the crunch and sweet spicy flavor of the real thing.
Rating – 3/5
Jeju Tangerine Jelly
Tangerine Flavored Gummy
Hailing from the island of Jeju, famous for it’s greenery and warm weather, the tangerines used in these gummies are unlike any other found in the world. Known for being sweeter and tarter than any other oranges in South Korea, these tangerines are grown in volcanic soil which is believed to help give them their distinct taste. This fruit is so prized that families tend to order their tangerines directly from the island months in advance so as to not to miss out on the winter crop.
Rating – 2/5
Mammos Rice Candy
Rice Flavored Hard Candy
As a reminder of the hard work put in by farmers throughout the long, hot summers in South Korea, rice candy was born. The idea for this treat came to be when farmers were eager to use their crops in a variety of different foods regardless of how bizarre they seemed. This rice candy, which features actual grains of South Korean rice, isn’t the only creation made from the farmers’ crops though. In September when the rice is harvested, everyone gets together to celebrate a three day holiday known as Chuseok where families will incorporate fresh rice into almost every dish ranging from bean-stuffed rice cakes to fried rice balls and alcoholic beverages.
Rating – 2/5
Another month of Universal Yums in the bag and onto the next, where we’ll be trying snacks and candies from another brand new country.
In the meantime, be sure to catch up on any previous posts you may have missed and don’t forget to check out the link below to save $5 on your first month of Universal Yums.