Convenience Stores

Convenience Stores

Finding that 24/7 store to fulfill all your needs while biking in Korea.

Like in Japan, convenience stores are life support for many Koreans. On every city block, their doors welcome cold and hungry refugees every hour of the day, every day of the week.

Got problems? They’ve got solutions. Thirsty? Grab a some water (or a tallboy). Dying phone? Grab one of their portable batteries or phone chargers. Bad breath? Find mouthwash and more in the toiletries section.

GS25 and 7-Eleven are two dominate convenience store chains in Korea.

Convenience stores pay their bills with mealtime offerings. Lunchboxes. Cups of ramen. Open fridges filled with snacks complete a balanced-(ish) breakfast, lunch, dinner, or in-between.

Dining In

So you’ve chosen and paid for your cup of noodles (and sodium). Now what? Look for meter tall towers of cylindrical metal. These drink dispensers don’t dispense lemonade.

Peel back the corner to your cup ramen and take out the flavor packet. Now, slip the dispenser nozzle inside and let loose a torrent of steaming water. Use your chompers to tear the flavor packet. Sprinkle and mix. A few minutes later, you sub-₩3,000 lunch is ready.

Instant Ramen

Instant ramen claims a good chunk of physical space in most stores. Cups and packages jam aisles with endless options.

You’ll find classics like Shin Ramen. Oddities like the Cheese Paldo. How-did-they-do-that’s like jajangmyeon (black noodles). And why-did-they-do-that’s like jjamppong (seafood).

If you want to seer off those extra taste buds, find a cup of Buldalgbokk Eummyeon (불닭볶음면). Its legendary spice brought many a teenager to the soda aisles looking for relief.

Triangle Gimbap

Convenience stores stock plenty of rolls of old fashion gimbap. But, don’t skip the triangle gimbap (samgak; 삼각김밥). The palm sized snack follows the same recipe. Rice, veges and meat wrapped in seaweed.

Peel back the little tab on the top of the triangle. The cellophane strip will follow pre-cut lines, slowly presenting the crispy seaweed shell.

Lunchboxes (Dosirak)

Below the gimbap and crust-less sandwiches, you’ll find plastic wrapped trays of lunch. Also known as Dosirak (도시락), wives and mothers traditionally prepared these packaged lunches for their familial workers.

Inside a typical convenience store lunchbox, find a plot of rice, a main meat dish, and various banchan (side dishes; 반찬). These side dishes can include the ubiquitous kimchi, jeon (전), sliced egg roll, and more.

Beware! Some lunchboxes contain spicy surprises.

Hot Bar

Mill around the street vendors in Seoul’s Myeongdong (명동). You’ll discover the many varieties of Korea’s meat on a stick trend

In Korea, these are known as hot bar (핫바)? Hot meat on a bar or stick.

Convenience stores also serve up hot bar. However, they don’t carry the hot title as well as their flame-licked cousins.

Vacuum sealed sticks of meat hang near the open refrigerators. You’ll find a good variety, including quattro cheese. Garlic sausage. Tteokgalbi (떡갈비; spicy meat). 

Convenience stores also serve up hot bar. However, they don’t carry the hot title as well as their flame-licked cousins.

Vacuum sealed sticks of meat hang near the open refrigerators. You’ll find a good variety, including quattro cheese. Garlic sausage. Tteokgalbi (떡갈비; spicy meat). 

Boiled Eggs & More

Need protein like Rocky? Don’t want to slurp down a glass of raw eggs. Convenience stores fixes your dietary need with any their assortments of boiled eggs. Some eggs have varing texture and slight flavor additives. But, the core recipe is the same. Take an egg. Boil it in water. And package it up.

You thought the fun ended there? Oh, you’re wrong. Fill your gullet with some prepackaged packaged hamburgers. Pop them into the microwave in the back

If you want a more conventional approach to a quick lunch, try out a egg, ham, or strawberry sandwich. Simple. Delicious. Crust-less.

Got a cold hamburger in hand. A chilly rice bowl. Plate of mandu that needs heat. The convenience stores got your back.

In smaller stores, you can find their microwave behind the counter. Larger stores center their food reactor in a small kitchenette, available for all customers.

Check the back of the packaging. Find a microwave or circle with colon separated numbers (01:15). You guessed it. Minutes and second. Pop it in. Beep, beep, beep. Chow down!

Food is culture. And every culture is different. What isn’t different? Junk food.

Korea’s junk yard haul may surprise. It may horrify. It may inspire awe. Don’t be afraid to dig in. You’ll find sometimes to fit your bring sustenance to your sweet tooth. 

Chips & Crisps

Korea goes way beyond your standard potato chips (crisps, for the English folk). If you’re looking to experiment, try shrimp flavored chips. O! Karto serves up french fry chips. That’s right! Potato chips in french fry form. Or, you can take the expressway to sweet town and dig into a bag of Honey Butter Chips

Don’t run from the more unusual offerings. Kkokkal Corn (꼬깔콘) is Korea’s version of Bugles. Pringles makes an apperance on the crispy scene with the familiar and exotic.

Choco Pies and Peperos

Korea has all manner of sweet things to satisfy your urges.

Choco Pies (초코파이) resemble moonpies. However, Korea stuffs them not only with marshmallow. You’ll also find cream stuffed. Green tea stuffed. Banana stuffed.

Peperos (빼빼로) boast by far the best marketing team of any sweet treat. Come to Korea on November 11th (a.k.a. Pepero Day) and you’ll find sweethearts exchanging boxes of these chocolate covered cookie sticks. Why November 11th? 11-11. Four pepero sticks in a row.

Diget (다이제) is a popular semi-sweet digestives in Korea. One side naked, one side covered in chocolate, they go great with a hot cup of coffee.

Pastries & Bread

How extensive are Korea’s convenience stores? Tucked into the ends of aisles you’ll often find a tiny bakery.

The selection isn’t exactly straight from the oven. But, their loaves also aren’t three-day old, doorstops.

You’ll find cream-filled delights, chocolate topped doughnuts, and frosted cookies.

Red bean is a uniquely east Asian sweet filling. The idea of sweet bean filling might put you off. But remember, chocolate is a bitter seed before surger is added.

Korean’s also love their roll cakes. They bring these cream wrapped sponge cakes to breezy get-togethers and work celebrations.

Korean has evolved from hungry-stomach poverty to a western lifestyle rapidly. However, breakfast options still lag behind. Most Koreans dine on a bowl of home cooked rice in the morning. Waffles and flapjacks just aren’t an option.

So, if you want a quick injection of carbs to start your day, hit up the local GS25. Grab an armful of pastries, carton of, maybe a canned coffee. Bring them back to your motel, throw them in the mini-fridge, then stuff your face when you wake up.

It’s not the healthiest option. But, it’ll get you on the road fast.

Candy! Candy!

If you’re every having trouble remembering what it was like to be a kid, swing by the candy aisle.

왕꿈틀이 translates to Big Gummy Worms. They’re, you guessed it, Korea’s version of the good ol’ gummy worm. They’re sweet and ubiquitous.

Lotte is one of Korea’s mega corps. In addition to theme parks and apartment buildings, they also make sweet things. Bars of milk chocolate and dark chocolate Ghana decorate every sweet tooth aisle on the peninsula. 

The Spanish confectionery Chupa Chups make lollipops and more. They’ve grabbed Korean children’s imagination, and thus a permanent space on convenience store shelves. 

Crown Confectionery is another homegrown candy maker. Their most popular offering is 마이쮸 (Ma-ie-jju). Like Starburst, the taffy candy comes in grape, strawberry, and apple flavors.

There are over 40,000 convenience stores in Korea. More open everyday.

Find a nook, a closet, spacious hole in the wall. Blink and a ‘Coming Soon’ sign will appear.

Here are the most popular chains.

Thirsty! Convenience stores stock their coolers with everything from Coke to strawberry milk. You can find something to keep you up and something to bring the night alive (and blurry).

Coffee, Tea & Herbs

Coffee, the forbidden drink. In addition to Starbucks and the thousands of coffee shops found around town, find rows and rows of coffee in the open fridge aisle.

From cold brew to mocha to latte, Barista Rules serves up many different options. Some flavors are sweet. Some are super sweet.

Vita 500 Gold (비타500골드) is a popular vitamin C drink. The 500 indicates the amount of vitamin C in this sucker: 500% your daily dose.

If you’ve hit the soju a little too hard last night, try a bottle of 헛개차 (hovenia dulis tea). In addition to its bitter flavor, the tea is a popular hangover cure in Japan, China, and Korea.

Bagged Drinks

Summer here? Sun hot? Well, convenience stores giveth.

Find the drink aisle. Reach into the cooler and grab a cup of ice. This is the first part of the equation.

Now, search for boxes filled with plastic pouches. Inside each pouch you’ll find part two of the equation: sweet nectar. Lemonade. Latte. Grapefruit. And much more.

Once you pay for your drink puzzle, rip the top off the bag and pour the contents into the cup o’ ice. Voilà!

Wasteful? You bet. Colder than the refrigerated drinks? Marginally.

Milk & Yogurt

Got milk? Need milk? Which flavor?

The options will overwhelm you. Banana milk. Strawberry Milk. Coffee milk. Red bean milk. They also have some flavors called chocolate milk and milk milk (it’s milk).

Yogurt (요구르트) is another popular option for kids from six to sixty. Everywhere you’ll find plastic, palm sized, foil topped bottles carrying sour yogurt shots.

Adult Beverages

For good or bad, alcohol’s fame burns bright in Korea. The trifecta of iterations includes beer (맥주; maekju), soju (소주), and makgeolli (막걸리).

Beer

The early 20th century west introduced beer to Korea. It dug deep fast. The tallboy (500 ml), lager form is the most popular.

Though foreign brands take up more cooler space these days, Cass (OB) and Hite dominate the market. Notorious for their “lighter taste,” price and national pride help push tankers full of brew into thirty stomachs.

Soju

Judged by cultural identification, though, Soju reigns supreme. The Korean peninsula birthed this form of rice liquor. In return, this little spirit anoints Korea “one of the most hard liquor consuming country on earth.”

The alcohol content in soju varies. Old school conconctions hovered around 30% ABV. Today, companies make 15-18% ABV spirits. Though that’s the same as an average wine, most Korea’s take shots soju.

Don’t be like less initiated foreigners. Soju will sneak up on you like a Tesla. You won’t hear the thing until you’re face down in a storm drain.

Makgeolli

Makgeolli holds a special place in the alcohol pantheon. The cloudy rice wine is the oldest alcohol beverage in Korea.

In convenience stores, they come in opaque, 750 ml bottles near the soju. Somewhat sour, somewhat sweet, makgeolli’s ABV hovers somewhere between 6-9%.

You can also find makgeolli restaurants that serve a chilled, fresh brew in an open pot. Use a ladle to fill your cup and chow down on buchimgae (부침개), a fried, savory pancake.

You thought only the English language had portmanteaus? Korea has them, too. Soju (소주) + Maekju (맥주; beer) = Somaekju (소맥).

Pour a little soju in a glass. Fill the rest with Cass. What do you get? The most popular Korean cocktail.

Whether you think this knocks the flavor out of the park or kicks it into the gutter, you can’t deny … it’s Korean. Uniquely.

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