It's picnic season in Korea. Do you know what that means? It's time to put together a basket! If you're not sure what to pack, don't worry. Here are the go-to Korean picnic foods you need to try.
What's for (Picnic) Dinner?
Whether it's a family outing or a romantic date, nothing beats a picnic lunch or dinner, especially if you eat one or more of these delicious dishes.
When it comes to iconic Korean foods, kimbap (김밥) is at the top of the list. It's made by rolling rice and toppings of choice in a sheet of toasted seaweed (kim,김). You'll find kimbap in lunch boxes (keep on reading), convenience stores, and picnic baskets.
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Kimbap is easy to make and pack. You can put anything inside it, which means it's perfect for using up leftovers. There are many varieties of kimbap, including cheese (below), raw meat (yukhoe, 육회), and triangle-shaped (samgak-kimbap, 삼각김밥). If you're looking for something hassle-free, look no further than this dish!
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Korean fried chicken (후라이드 치킨) might not be the healthiest or cleanest picnic option, but it's one of the most popular foods. You can get a number of fried chicken recipes, but we'll mention two of them. Yangnyeom chicken (양념 치킨) is marinated in a gochujang-based sauce and is the spiciest chicken.
Image Credits: Image via Maangchi
Meanwhile, the sauce for dakgangjeong chicken (닭강정) contains more syrup, making the sauce sweeter, and the chicken itself is crispier. You can also tell the them apart by sight thanks to the sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
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Korean fried chicken can be enjoyed on its own or with cold beer. This combo is called chimaek (치맥), a combination of "chicken" and the Korean word for beer, "maekju" (맥주). The cool, bitter drink offsets the spiciness of the chicken, showing how versatile and loved Korean fried chicken is.
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You'll see these boxes everywhere in Korean, including schools and offices, but they're especially handy for picnics. Inside the dosirak (도시락), you'll find rice, banchan (more on that later), kimbap, and fried eggs. But there are also other popular dosirak options.
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First, a rolled omelette (gyeran-mari, (계란말이). It's filled with ingredients like cheese, ham, scallions, and mushrooms before being rolled into a log and cut into 2-3 cm pieces. You can make them at home or pick them up at a local street market stall.
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Next for some more Korean street food staples. Tteokbokki (떡볶이) are rice cakes tossed in spicy sauce, while mandu (만두) are dumplings that come with different fillings and can be fried, steamed, or boiled.
We've had kimbap; now, get ready for its seaweed-free counterpart. Jumeok-bap (주먹밥) literally means "fist rice," and it's made by squeezing rice into balls. You can use any kind of rice for jumeok-bap, and it's even better with veggies, kimchi, and meat.
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Another rice dish, but with tofu. Yubuchobap (유부초밥) are tofu pockets stuffed with seasoned rice. There's less risk of the food breaking apart, and your fingers will get less sticky. It can be eaten by itself or with bigger dishes like hot pot.
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Hitting the Hot Pot
You heard us correctly: Hot pot (jeongol, 전골) is a popular Korean picnic dish, especially during the warm months! The stew is made by adding broth to vegetables, meats, seafoods, and/or tofu and cooking it right at your table or campsite.
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There a few reasons why hot pot is loved so much. One is its flexibility, since you can add any ingredients you can think of. The other is the communal aspect, with multiple people eating from the same pot.
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Jeongol is similar to jjigae (찌개), except that the latter is usually made with and named after one main ingredient. Popular types include kimchi jjigae and sundubu jjigae (below), made with unpressed tofu.
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With these stew recipes, you'll get rid of the past week's leftovers. You'll also have a healthy and hearty lunch that you can share with many people. Food for the stomach, food for the soul.
You can't have a Korean meal without the side dishes (banchan, 반찬). From kimchi to bean sprouts to steamed greens, these dishes bring additional colors, textures, and flavors to the dinner table. (Or basket.)
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Besides that, banchan offers many health benefits, including increased nutrients, a lower calorie count, and, in the case of kimchi, probiotics and anti-inflammatory agents.
Whether it's three or fifteen, banchan offer a variety of nutritious dishes that will fill your stomach and improve your health. Don't forget them for your picnic!
Sweet Spring- and Summertime Treats
Have you finished every bite of your meal? It's now time for dessert! In addition to popular Korean candies and pastries, there are some common picnic treats that all Koreans can enjoy.
Hwajeon (화전) was traditionally made during the spring and fall for the holidays Samjinnal and Junggu. Women went on hwajeon-nori (화전놀이), a special picnic, to look at flowers in the mountains.
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The ladies picked blossoms that were available - usually rhododendrons in the spring and chrysanthemums in the fall - and pressed them into sweet rice cakes for frying. Hwajeon are easy to make, but they look too good to eat!
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Flowers aren't the only things in season now. Fresh fruit can be found in stores and markets, which makes them perfect for a picnic. Koreans especially love strawberries, which can already be picked during the winter.
Koreans also like watermelon, especially during the hot summer months. You can eat it on its own or you can make punch (subak-hwachae, 수박화채) with and in it. The original punch is non-alcoholic, but Korean adults love adding soju in the mix.
Finally, as the days get longer and hotter, we start craving colder foods. And nothing screams "summer" more than shaved ice (bingsu, 빙수). Served with syrups, fruit, and other toppings like red bean paste, bingsu is a spring and summer classic that you can enjoy by yourself or with a friend.
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Picnic Drinks to Quench Your Thirst
Last but not least, there's nothing like a refreshing drink on a warm spring day. These are the beverages you're likely to see on a Korean picnicker's blanket.
Sometimes simple is best. That's why many Koreans love Sprite. The lemon-lime flavored soda is crisp and cooling, a must-have as the days heat up, and it can be enjoyed by all ages thanks to its light taste and bubbly texture.
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Sprite can be enjoyed by itself or with other drinks. Cocktails made with Sprite and beer or soju are especially popular with young adults. The soda helps enhance the soju's/beer's flavor and decrease the alcohol's intensity.
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And we can't forget Sprite and hard-boiled eggs! This snack is commonly eaten on trains travelling through the Korean countryside. Start your picnic with this small but satisfying combo!
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A beloved childhood snack for many Koreans. Binggrae's banana milk is made with a handful of ingredients and comes with a strong banana taste.
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Besides the delicious flavor and adorable packaging, banana milk stands out for being a healthier snack option. Bananas are high in potassium, fibre, and probiotics for good gut health.
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Banana milk comes in several different flavors, including strawberry and coffee. It's also easy to make at home. Pick up a bottle or two when you do your picnic shopping. It's a must-try for people new to Korean snacks!
Let's finish with a traditional Korean rice punch. Sikhye (식혜) is made by fermenting rice in malt water. The fermentation process ends before the drink becomes alcoholic, leaving the grains at the bottom.
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Sikhye is sweet and slightly malty. It's usually given to help with digestion due to its probiotic content, which is why you'll also see it at big dinners and celebrations. If you need a non-alcoholic but interesting drink for your get-together, this is it!
Seoulbox: A Picnic in a Box
To celebrate springtime, we've chosen "Korean Picnic" as the theme for our May box. Inside, you'll find snacks and sweets inspired by Korean picnic foods, as well as K-pop and K-beauty items and a beautiful magazine (Seoulzine) that tells you everything you need to know about Korean picnics.
Image Credits: Seoulbox via Instagram
If you can't get to Korea while the spring flowers are in bloom, ordering a box is the next best option. And it's easy to do! Visit our website and choose from the regular (Signature) and vegetarian (V) options. Select the frequency and then you're good to go. Happy snacking, Seoulmates!
Image Credits: Image via Seoulbox
What foods do you like to eat during picnics? Are there any dishes that you've tried or would like to try on this list? Let us know in the comments below!