A Tour Of Korean Snack Foods – The Awl

ATourOfKoreanSnack?

Foods

byAaronGilbreath

Recently,IvisitedH-Mart,aKoreangrocerystorechainheadquarteredinNewJersey(that‘H’standsfor“HanAhReum,”whichmeans“armfullofgroceries”)。

Iwentinforlaverseaweed,fermentedriceboozeanddoenjangpaste。

Ileftwithnearlyfifteendollars’worthofsnackcrackers,sweetsandchips?

—?

eightshinilypackaged,savoryexamplesofKorea’scontributionstotheinternationaljunkfoodindustry。

I’mnotnormallyachipeater。

Ididn’tgrowuponCheetosorFritos,andInevercaredmuchaboutDoritosonewayortheother。

ButIdoloveatastetest,andalleightoftheseproductswerenewtome。

Findings:someofthesetreatswerefun,somewerefailures,andothersInowfindmyselfcravingagainand?

again。

1。

CARAMELCORNPEANUT$2。

49?

82g

Although“CaramelCornPeanut”mightbethesnack’sliteraltranslation,Ilikecallingthese“CowboyPeanut。

”Thefrontofthebagfeaturesacartoonpeanutinagreencowboyhat,wieldingasix-shooter,butthebackofthebagiswheretherealaction’sat:himroastingcrackersinaskillet,thewaycowboysdidbackwhenpeanutsstillruledtherangeandasinglecornpuffcouldspelllifeor?

death。

Beware:thesetastesogoodtheywillmakeeverysnackhereaftertastelackluster。

Amixofsavoryandsweet,CaramelCornPeanutcombinesthetextureofCheetoscheesepuffswiththetasteofCapt’nCrunch。

Althoughadmittedlyexperiencingacarbohydrateeuphoria,ImeanitwhenIsaythattheCrownConfectioneryCompanyhascreatedasnackevenmoredeservingofacultfollowingthanSnickersandTwinkies。

Noexaggeration:theseareperfect。

Alightandairyinteriorwithasturdycrunchyoutside。

Thepeanutflavorisrichbutnotoverpowering。

Thecornflavorissubtlebutstrongenoughtoregister。

Anddespitetheword“caramel”inthename,thesearen’tassweetasanAmericanversionwouldbe。

Thecaramelflavorjustaddsanotherdelicatelayerofnuttiness,andpossiblythepuff’sfaint?

glaze。

Forwhateverreason,Koreancuisineinvolvesalotofcorn:corntea,corncakes,roastedearsofcorn,evencornstarchinsomeflavoredricewine。

NativeAmericansintroducedEuropeanexplorerstocorninthelate15thcentury,andEuropeansintroducedcorntotherestofworld。

Corn,likechilies,arrivedinKoreaninthe17thcentury,andeventhoughitisn’tascentraltotheircookingaschiliorfermentedsoy,it’shardtoimageKoreanfoodwithoutit。

Ilovetheirenthusiasmforcorn。

It’spartiallyresponsibleforrenewingmyownappreciation,sinceI’dbeenoverexposedduringmyArizonacorntortilla,cornchip,cornmasatamale,hominychildhood。

Koreansnacksseemtofrequentlyinvolvepeanuts,too。

TakeTtangkongyeot,forexample,thetraditionalnut-covereddessert,andthis,themodernOrionKoreanPeanutCracker。

Allofwhichistosay:corn+peanutflavor=delicious。

AnAmericanstudentnamedNatashaputitanotherway。

WhilestudyingatYonseiUniversityinSeoul,Natashakeptadetailedblogofherexperiences,oneofwhichinvolvedaCaramelCornPeanutencounter:“Thenamedescribesthissnackperfectly。

Amixofpeanutbutterandcarameltaste。

Neverwouldyouthinkthatthesetwoflavorsgotogether…buttheydo!

Iactuallygotthesetoday,theyareSOgood!

Koreahassuchgoodsnacks!

Idon’tknowhowtheystaysoskinnyhere!

”Thepostistitled“CaramelCornPeanutsarehauntingmy?

dreams。



CaramelCornPeanut?

armada

Sidenote1:Itturnsout,there’saJapaneseversionoftheseheavenlypuffs,too,calledCaramelCorn,byTohato。

OrmaybetheKoreanversionisanimitationoftheJapaneseversion。

Basedonthetwonations’tensehistoryofinvasion,culturalcleansingandexpulsion,Ishouldn’tdrawthosesortsofcomparisons。

Althoughthey’vebeenwrittenaboutonthissitebefore,IonlyrecentlydiscoveredtheseTohatosnacksontherackataJapanesegrocerystore,attractedbyaglimpseofacaramelcornpuff?

picture。

Frankly,they’renotasgoodastheKoreanversion,smallerinsizeandtastingprimarilylikeheavilybutteredmoviepopcorn,sonomatterwhichbrandcamefirst,IknowwhichIprefer。

Ifyou’reintosnackswithcreepycircusclownfacesonthem,orjustwanttoreadmoreaboutJapanesepackagingdesign,youcandosohereand?

here。

Tiny,inferior,shrimp-like。

Sidenote2:There’saGermanversionaswell,calledBrentwoodPeanutFlips。

Aswewouldexpectfromtheefficient,technologicallyinnovativeGermans,these?

—?

thepackagetellsus?

—?

arenotfried,butrather“producedbycombiningpressurewithhotaircookingtocreateauniqueandlightpeanutexperience。

”Similarintexturetotheothers,PeanutFlipstastelikeasaltierversionofCapt’nCrunch,favoringthepeanutflavorandsaltysideofthespectrum,andsparingusthesweet。

They’redelicious。

They’realso“anewwaytosatisfyyourpeanutcravingthatyourentirefamilywillenjoy!



2。

KIRINCORNCHIPS$2。

19fora2。

79oz(79g)?

bag

Kirinisabignameinthesnackgame。

Theymakecrackers,icecream,bakedgoodsandricesticks,andhavebeeninbusiness,inoneformoranother,since1969。

Kirinalsomakesvarioustypesofchips。

NestedonarackneartheNongshimPizzaSnackwasthemostgeneric-soundingsnackofthemall:KirinCorn?

Chips。

Thebagadvertisestheseashaving“roastedcornflavor,”witheachchipcontaining“63%Cornand4。

5%RoastedCornSeasoning。

”4。

5%?

—?

Irespectthatcommitmenttoaccuracy。

Evenmore,Iliketheideaofthisflavor。

Unfortunately,ifaskedtodoablindtastetest,andfedthesechipsbyanunseenhand,Iwouldn’tdescribetheirflavoras“roastedcorn。

”Iwouldsaytheytastedlike“wheychips。

”There’sadistinctmilkinesstothem,asoft,silken,creaminessthatmytongueandnoseregisterassweet,thoughnotinawhitesugarorsaccharinesortofway。

Maybeit’smoreofa“sweetmilk”flavor。

ThebitsIpickedfrommyteethmomentsafterclosingthebagevenhadafaintlybuttered,cheesepopcorntaste。

Popcornispopped,which,althoughnotthesameasroasted,ispossiblycloseenoughtoroasting(inthewaythatmicrowavingisclosetobarbecuing)toassumemaybethatwaswhatthechip’sdesignerswereconfusingwiththeflavorofroastedcorn。

Whateverthesesmelledandtastedlike,thegestaltincludedhintsofsomethingfamiliarthatIcouldn’tquitepinpoint,butnotcorn。

Maybefriedcorn。

ThemoreIsniffedthebag,themoreconfusingthesmellbecame。

Itwasalmostdizzying。

OnlyafterreadingtheingredientsdidIrealizethatwhatIwastastingwasamixofcoconutpowder,palmoilsugarand?

milk。

What’ssointerestingisthewaythathumanslivinginuber-developedcountriesbreakdownoneingredient?

—?

asinglegrain,say?

—?

reconfigureitintosomethingthatnolongerresemblesitsoldself,andthenhavetore-flavorittomakeittaste“more”liketheoriginalthingitdidbeforewestartedtinkering。

Plumpdomesticstrawberriesthataspirebutfailtotasteasintenselystrawberry-likeasawildone。

Grapejuicemademostlyfromjuicedapplesthatcontainsgrapeflavoringandbeetsforcoloration。

Achipmadewith63%cornthatneedstobedoctoredtotastelikewhatsomeonethinksroastedcorntasteslike,butactuallydoesn’ttastelikeatall。

Thenagain,whataretheygoingtodo,shoveabunchofroastedearsofcorninabagandsendthemtomarket?

No。

Wewantcrunch。

Wewantfat。

Andwewantthattotastelikeroastedfriggin’corn。

Naturedoesn’tgiveusthat,sowehavetomakeitourselves。

3。

KIRINSOFTCORNSNACK(or,astheH-Martreceiptcallsthem,“KirinCornPuffs”)$3。

49?

280g

Onehugebagofthiswasonly$3。

49,andit’sfullofpuffedcorn?

—?

63%full,ifI’mreadingthetypecorrectly。

AnAmericanaudiencemightfindthesekernelsvisuallycomparabletoKellogg’sCornPopscereal,butonebiterevealsaworldofdifference。

Thesehaveafirmertextureandamoresatisfyingcrunch。

CornPopsbarelyhaveapopatall。

Theyonlycrunchbecausethey’reshellacked。

Don’tbefooledbytheword‘soft’inthename。

Thesehefty,substantial,close-to-naturekernelsbothcrunchandpop,whichmakesthem,ofallthesnacksonthislist,theonlyonethatremotelyresemblestheoriginalformofitsmainingredient。

SoftCornSnack’sflavorisalsobetter:it’sstronger,withamorerounded,roastedtaste,andlesssweet。

Youcantastetheroasting。

Onsomebites,youcantastewhatseemslikebutane,asifthekernelhadjustbeenlickedbyanopenflame。

Somehowthesefactorscombinetomakethekernelsseemmorealive,lessprocessed,eventhoughyouknowtheyprobablycameintotheworldtumblingoffaconveyorbelt,justlikeotherprocessedsnacks。

Besidesbeingactualkernels,theotherdifferencebetweentheseandCornPops:thesearehuge。

PeoplethinkthingsinAmericaarealwaysunnecessarily,pornographically,boastfullylarge?

ThesecouldbecalledTexasCorn。

OrGiantCorn?

Gorn。

Softcornontheleft,Kellogg’sCornPopsonthe?

right。

Accordingtotheingredients,thegorngernalshavebeenflavoredwithsugar,maltsyrup,margarine,butter,peanutbutter,saltandbutterpaste,butyouwon’ttasteanyofthoseindividually。

InJapan,youfindalotofricecrackerswithwhat,toAmericansensibilities,seem“unusual”flavoringagents:mushroompowder,bonitoextract,littleneckclampowder。

Clampowder?

Inacracker?

Thenyoueatthemandnothingstrikesyouasclammyorlikemuck-under-the-pier。

YouexpectClamato。

Yougetsavory,salty,deep。

InSoftCornSnack’scase,youmostlytastefireandcorn。

Cavemenwouldapprove,eveniftheycouldn’tfigureouthowtoopenthe?

bag。

I’vebeenchowingontheseforthreestraightdaysandthere’sstillsomeleft。

At$3。

49abag,thatseemslikeasteal。

Isit?

WhatdostoreschargeforabagofDoritosnowadays?

WheneverIbuynoodles,candyandfrozenfoodsatgrocerslikeH-Mart,Ioftenwonderhowimporteditemssoldatsuchalowpricescangenerateaprofit。

Isn’timportinganexpensiveprocess?

Maybeit’savolumegame。

ItiswhenIeat:howmanycanIfitinmymouthat?

once。

That’soneproblemwithtryingnewsnacks:youwanttotrythemallatone。

AtleastIdo。

Themugworttea,thefermentedpastewithmustardinit,thecornchips,ricechips,bananachips,bananamilkdrinkandchestnut-peanut-blackbeanporridgemash;allofitcallingouttoyoufromtheplasticgrocerybagand,later,itsspaceinyourpantry。

Whattoeatfirst?

Ipickoneandtasteit,thenthink,Iwonderwhatthat’slike?

Iopenthepackageandsampleafewbites。

Ithink,thatwastasty;nowIwanttotrythose。

Itgoeson?

forever。

Theotherproblemwithsnackslikethis:They’resogoodyoucan’tstopeatingthem。

They’redesignedtobescoopedbythehandful。

Andthenthecompanyputstheminanenormousfeedbagwithadeepbottomandyou’rescrewed。

I’mgladthenutritionalinformationislistedinsuchsmallprintthatIhavetostraintoreadit。

Idon’tneedglassestoseemydistendedbelly。

Itlookslikeacornpuff。

4。

KIRINRICESTARS,WHEATFLAVOR$2。

99fora5。

15oz(146g)?

bag

Letmejustsayit:beinggluten-freesucks。

Thisisdrawnintoparticularreliefwhenyou’reeither(a)nearaFrenchbakery,or(b)doinganythingelseinyourwakinglife。

YetIstilldidn’texpectmydietaryrestrictionstopresentsuchaproblemwhileselectingKorean?

snacks。

Browsingtherack,Iflippedoverbagaftercrinklybagonlytofindwheatasthemainingredient。

SoIhadtolimitmyselftotherice-andcorn-basedthings,which,eventhoughitshrunkmysamplepool,stillthankfullyleftmewithanoverwhelmingnumberofoptions。

Granted,italsomeantIhadtoskipsomeofthemostdelicious-soundingones:OrionCuttlefishPeanutSnack(ingredients:WheatFlour,CornSyrup,Peanut,Glucose,Starch),NongshimHoneyFlavoredTwistSnack(WheatFlour,CornStarch,Sugar,PalmOil,RicePowder,RapeseedOil,Honey,Salt),OrionO!

PotatoChilliChillisnacksticks(Potato,VegetableOil,SoyBean,Milk,WheatFlour)。

DespitemyurgetobreakwhatIhatebuthavetocall“mydiet,”IreturnedtheCuttlefishPeanutSnacktotheshelfandboughtonewhosedescriptionsoundedjustasbeguiling:“RiceStars,WheatFlavor。

”Youcanstillbegluten-freeandeatwheatflavor?

right?

Andanon-rhetoricalquestion:whywheatflavor?

Couldn’tyoujustmakeitawheatcracker?

Withallthewheataround,dressingupcorntotastelikewheatseemsasunnecessarilycomplicatedasmakingwater-flavoredCoke。

Butnomatter。

Maybeit’satexturalthing:cornmightimpartasuperiorcrunchforthiscracker’sparticularshapeandphysicalspecifications,becauseweallknowthatthiskindofsnackfoodisdesignedinsomekindoflaboratoryinvolvingblueprints,computerlayouts,testgroupsandspecifications。

IfthiswereaproductfromanAmericancompany,I’dassumeitwasamarketingploy:wheatflavorforthegluten-free。

Inthiscase,itbecomesonemorethingtoponderwhileshovelingchipsinmy?

mouth。

Andyes,eventhoughthesearericecrackers,theydocontainalittlewheatstarch,whichcancontaintraceamountsofgluten,dependingonthetype。

Theyalsocontain“starchsyrup,”whichsoundsascoolas“butterpaste,”andsurprisingandeffectiveflavoringagentssuchaspeaproteinandtomatojuice。

BecauseIdidn’twanttothinkaboutthewheatstarchissue,Ididn’tGoogleit。

IjustatethecrackersinmyownunlitHofofignorance。

5。

BANANAKICK,BANANAFLAVOREDSNACK$。

99fora1。

58oz(45g)?

bag

Theseinitiallyseemedlikeascore。

Acartoonbananainasafarihatleapingintheairwhileholdingupacocky“we’renumber1!

”gesture?

Ifeltlikeagrocery-storeLewisandClarkdiscoveringculinaryterritoryasyetunmappedinmyprovincialmind。

BananaKick’sproducer,theNongshimcompany,alsomakesasweetpotato-flavoredchipinaneye-catchingpurplebag,butIhadtoskipthosebecausetheycontainwheat。

(Tiny-violinsaside:Thankstomyclichéd,WestCoasteatingrestrictions,Ialsonolongereattwoofmyoldfavorites:NongshimTakoChips(brinyFunyons)andBin-Bin’sangelwhitecloudcoconutmilkflavorricecracker。

Thecoconutflavorisoverwhelminglyfake。

Itcomesintheformofapower。

It’sintense。

Andit’sdelicious。

Unfortunately,itcontains?

MSG。

)

Which,youask,istheactual?

banana?

Theideaissimple:acornpuff,crunchyyetlightasair,flavoredlikebanana。

They’reevenshapedlikeabanana?

—?

kindof。

Theyhaveanicesugaryglazeontopthatreflectslightinawaymoreakintodriedslugslimethanthatofcrèmebr?

lée,andtheyhaveacrunchsimilartothatdelicioushippiecerealGorillamunch,thoughBananaKick’sinsidesaremuchlighterin?

texture。

Althoughthesecontainactualbananainsomeformandquantity,theoverwhelmingflavorisoffakebanana。

Youknowhowsomefakefruitflavorssometimestastebetterthantherealfruitthey’reimpersonating?

(Sayingthatfeelslikeasignofthecomingrobotapocalypse。

)Ifyou’reahardcorefakebananafan,thenyoumightfeelthatwayaboutthese。

Idon’t。

I’mmoreafakestrawberries’ncreamMexicanlollipopguy。

MaybemyproblemisPavlovian:thisbananaflavorremindsmeofacertainmedicineIbrieflytookasakid,minusthegaggingthatensuedeverytimethatchalky,powderedglopoozeddownmygullet。

Don’tgetmewrong。

BananaKickaren’tallbad。

They’resweet。

They’recrunchy。

AfaninanAmazon。

comreviewsaid,“WelivedinKoreafortwoyearsandthesewereourFAVORITEsnackofalltime。

We’dbuythematthe7–11(really!

)justbeyondthegateofourhousingcomplex?

…Theycanbeaddictive,though。

You’llfindyourbagemptylongbeforeyou’redoneeatingthem。

”Myproblemistheflavor:itlingersinyournoseandonyourtongueinaperfumeychewinggumkindofway。

Orlikeabaddatethatwon’tgetthehint:Please,youwanttosay,gohomealready。

Thishasgonelongenough。

Whycan’ttheflavorofsteakorvanillaicecreamlingerlikethat?

Iguessit’sbecausethosearenatural,andwhereNaturesays,“Allgoodthingsmustcometopass,”industrialagri-chemistrysays,“Allthingsgoodorbadmustresistdecayandlingerintopsoilandyourfattytissueformillennia。

”OvertenminuteslaterandI’mstillburpingupbananaflavor。

6。

CROWNCORNCHO$1。

99?

2。

92oz

Ihatetouseacliché,butthisoneistrue:thesethingstastelikeStyrofoampackingpeanuts。

Youputtheminyourmouthandtheyresistmastication。

Theystarttomelt,butthen,wanttostop,insteadsortofflatteningthereonyourtonguelikememoryfoamwaitingtoresumeits?

shape。

Thiswholesnackisconfusing。

First,thename。

“Cho”isshortforchocolate,butthat’snotimmediatelyclear。

Chocouldmean“Chosen,”asin,“CornChosenforItsHighQuality。

”Choccouldbeaphoneticmisspellingofanabbreviated“choke,”suggestingacornflavorsostrongthatwe’regoingtochokeonit。

OrmaybecomedianMargaretChomakesthese。

It’sthatkindofworld。

Anything’spossible。

Evenwiththegraphiconthebagofadark-bandedyellowpuff,thefactthatit’schocolatebandisn’tclear。

Youlookatitandthink,Isthissupposedtobeahotdogflavoredcrackerorsomething?

Thenthere’sthattexture。

It’sthekindofthingyoueatandwonder,“Isthisstale?

”Ihopeso。

Ifnot,thenthescientistsattheCornCholaboratoryneedtorethinktheirentireconcept。

Intheserviceofconsumereducation,letmesay:unlessyoulikethetasteofspunpolymers,$1。

99fortheseistoomuch。

Butonceyouopenthatbagandeatafew,whatareyougoingtodo,returnthem?

Youcouldjustsuckthechocolateofftogetyourmoney’sworth,butthechocolate’ssoweakandthinlyappliedthatit’shardlyworththeeffort。

I’mofficiallyrechristeningthese“CornSuc。



7。

CORNSNACKS,CONE?

SHAPE

$1。

99,77g

Whatelsetocall?

these?

Astheingredientssay,theseinclude“cornsnackseasoning,”andforonce,that’saccurate。

Theytastelikecorn,lightlysalted,grainycorn。

ToAmericanpalates,theytastelikeBugles。

Whichmeansthey?

suck。

Admittedly,they’rethemostoily,too。

They’retheonlysnackonthislistthatleavesafaintoilyfilmonyourfingers?

—?

nothingmajor,justaslightsheennoworsethanthatleftbyapotatochiporFrenchfry。

Eventhoughthey’refried,they’relight。

Themealisn’treallydense,sotheyhaveaniceairy?

crunch。

They’rethefunshapeofawitch’shat,whichmakesyouwanttoputthemonyourfingersandotherthings。