When most people think of traveling in Asia, they may be thinking that they can go on a shoestring budget and save money. While this may be true in place located in the heart of Southeast Asia such as Thailand and Vietnam, prices in Eastern Asia are much higher making cheap travel next to impossible. Though South Korea may not be as expensive as places such as Hong Kong or Japan, you can certainly manage to blow through your budget rather quickly if you aren’t careful as hotels, food, and entertainment can get a bit pricey. No worries, because we’ve got you covered on where you can find some budget food in South Korea!
After living in Korea for a few years now, we decided to share our knowledge of cheap eats and drinks around the country. If you are looking for more budget travel ideas in Korea, check out our previous post all about cheap ways to travel in the Land of the Morning Calm where we share accommodation ideas for budget travelers as well as various inexpensive and / or free activities to do around Korea.
#1 〉 Mandu
Steamed dumplings, or mandu are a great way to eat cheaply while in Korea. Similar to Chinese dumplings, these little guys will keep you full and satisfied if you are on a budget. You can choose between fried, steamed, and boiled mandu and they are typically filled with meat (pork), vegetables, or kimchi. There are also “Wang Mandu” which literally translates into King Dumpling. They are about the size of your fist and cost less than a dollar.
Price: The smaller dumplings can typically be bought 10 for 3,000₩.
Location: To find these mandu shops, head to the markets and follow the steam that is issuing out of the large silver steamers!
#2 〉 Ramyeon
We don’t advise you to eat a ton of ramyeon on your trip to Korea, mainly due to the fact that it has very little nutritional value, but if you are looking for a super cheap food option, ramyeon is your best friend. There so many different varieties of Korean ramyeon, that it would be difficult to not find one you enjoy. For spicy lovers, we suggest Shin Ramyeon (신라면) or Jin Ramyeon (진라면) which can be bought at any convenience store. For those of you who aren’t into the spicy side of life, try out Snack Ramen (스낵면) or a simple cheese ramen (치즈라면) at one of the local kimbap shops.
Price: At convenience stores, expect to pay around 1,500₩ for a package, while at a restaurant, you will be paying around 3,000₩.
Location: Kimbap restaurants or convenience stores
#3 〉 Street Food
For some of the most varied and cheapest eats around Korea, hit up the markets for some amazing street food! If you are making a meal out of it, there are loads of street foods that aren’t all together completely junk food. Keep an eye out for stir fried noodles (잡채), Sweet Potatoes (군고구마), Vegetable Hoteok (야채호턱), Chicken on a stick (닭오치), and even Turkish kebab wraps can be found on the regular. There are loads more, but these are our go tos if we are just skipping meals in exchange for street food!
Price: Everything can be bought for 3,000₩ or less and since it’s so cheap, you can sample tons of different kinds!
Location: Traditional Markets all over Korea and Myeongdong in Seoul
#4 〉 Kimbap
Besides serving Kimbap rolls that are beyond cheap and delicious, these small restaurants offer a wide variety of cheap Korean dishes. Soups, cutlets, ramyeon, dumplings, stir fried rice, are all found in abundance at these stores. Of course, ordering a meal here will come with various “banchon” (side dishes) so you are definitely getting your money’s worth!
Price: The most you can spend on a plate here will be around 8,000₩, but most of the dishes can be purchased for 5,000₩.
Location: Look for the bright red exteriors with 김밥 천국 written on the sign!
#5 〉 Dosirak Korean Lunchboxes
Similar to the Lunchables that American kids eat, in East Asia mother’s take the time to prepare lunch meals for their children. Separating out rice, meats, kimchi, and sometimes kimbap, these boxes can be simple, or even elaborately made with food shaped into the forms of animals or characters. In the past, this tradition was certainly more popular, but in modern times, you can buy these lunchboxes at convenience stores for around 3,000₩, the Tongin Market where you can make your own plate for 5,000₩, or look for dosirak (도시락) on the menu of bbq restaurants.
If they come in the metal tins pictures above, be sure to give the box a thorough shaking before digging in. Just whatever you do, do NOT call them by their Japanese name of bento boxes!
Price: Convenience stores for around 3,000₩, traditional markets make your own plate for 5,000₩
Location: All Korean convenience stores, Tongin Market, and on the side menu at certain restaurants
#6 〉 Bibimbap
First, the bibimbap is a must. While this national dish is well loved from every corner of this country, it is also very affordable! The ingredients are very basic, consisting of a variety of vegetables such as carrot, cucumber, mushroom, radish, spinach, sprouts, and fernbrake arranged colorfully on top of a bed of rice and red pepper paste. Simply mix together and enjoy! There are dozens of opportunities to taste this special regional dish, so don’t let your budget let you miss out.
Price: Prices vary, but typically costs around 6,000₩
Location: Kimbap Cheonguk and Various Restaurants all over Korea
#7 〉 Kimbap
For budget travelers, Korean kimbap is a lifesaver! Consisting of various vegetables, meats, or kimchi laid on top of a flat sheet of seaweed and rice, the ingredients are then all rolled together and then cut into bite sized pieces. You can even get rolls with fried cutlets inside if all those vegetables are just a wee bit too healthy for you! They are filling and definitely better for you than eating some of the other options on our list!
Price: The rolls certainly vary in price, but you can except to pay around 1,500 – 3,000₩ per roll.
Location: Kimbap Cheonguk and all convenience stores
#8 〉 Convenience Stores
Most convenience stores have a wide variety of foods that you can pick and choose from. Of course there is ramyeon in about a million different flavors, prepackaged kimchi, sausages, hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza, chips, fruit, and even dried squid! Once you have made your purchases, head outside to their ‘dining room’, which is just a bunch of folding plastic tables and chairs with shade umbrellas. Every day we see groups of people lounging in the plastic furniture having snacks or full-fledged meals. Take advantage of this and save that money!
Price: Most items will cost you less than 5,000₩
Location: On nearly every street in Korea! Check out: GS25, CU, Ministop, 711, or All I Buy
#9 〉 Share Your Meal
A seriously great tip we have learned from watching people eat in Korea is to simply share your meals. In America, this is a bit weird and your server might think you are being cheap to get out of tipping very much, but as there is no tipping in Korea and sharing food is actually encouraged, you should totally feel free! Most meals come with a variety of side dishes for free of charge, so sharing an entrée and then getting down on the ensuing side dish miracle will certainly help you save some money! Most restaurants also refill your side dishes so you certainly will not leave feeling dissatisfied.
Price: Meals in Korea vary in price. You can pay anywhere between 4,000₩ – 15,000₩ per dish
Location: You can share meals anywhere except for buffets and high end restaurants
#10 〉 Pop Up Coffee Shops
Everyone needs a little pick me up when traveling around trying to see and do everything you possibly can. Coffee in Korea is a bit expensive, so enter the newest popup coffee and juice stores! Paik’s Coffee, Thumb Coffee, and Coffee Man are leading the charge in the race to be the cheapest specialty drink store, however many and more similar stores can be found everywhere in Korea.
Price: An Americano can cost you as little as 1,000₩ and could be the extra boost you needed for your day of adventure.
Location: These can be found in any shopping or restaurant area in Korea with little effort!
#11 〉 Sauna Eggs
Sauna eggs are similar to boiled eggs, but they are cooked slowly for a long period of time with steam, hence the “sauna egg” name! You can typically buy these cheap and filling eggs at Korean spas or at most convenience stores. Just double check the name (구운계란) to make sure that you aren’t just buying regular eggs! The eggs are a great source of protein and coupled with a bit of fruit or even a kimbap roll, these little guys can make for a cheap, light, and healthy meal.
Price: The eggs vary in price, but expect to pay around 300₩ – 3,000₩ depending on the quantity
Location: Convenience stores and saunas all sell these delicious little guys!
#12 〉 Pizza School
Real talk, Korean pizza is WEIRD. Koreans love to put any topping they can dream up on top of their pizzas, and they aren’t cheap. Pizza Hut, Mr. Pizza, and Dominoes all have some pretty outrageously pricey pies. However, the basic pizza place that students flock to due to its reasonable price is Pizza School. You can get toppings that are more familiar to the normal pizzas we westerners are used to such as cheese and pepperoni. These are perfect to get for an afternoon picnic down by the Han River or just back up to your hotel room!
Price: Pizzas can cost between 5,000₩ – 12,000₩ depending on the toppings
Location: Use the ever important Daum Maps to find a store near you, but seriously, they are everywhere!
#13 〉 Drink with Free Food
You heard right, at Jeonju style makgeolli restaurants, with purchase of makgeolli, you are served endless food FOR FREE. Many restaurants across Korea will bring you side dishes with your food, but why not try out some of the local rice wine with it and get some free food to boot? This style of serving makgeolli and giving free food originated in Jeonju, thus the name Jeonju Makgeolli was born.
Price: Each bottle of makgeolli will cost 4,000₩, but the more you drink, the more food you get!
Location: If you are headed to this culturally important city, be sure to check out our favorite makgeolli house here. If you are looking for one in Seoul, try searching for a “전주 막걸리” restaurant near you on Daum Maps!
Have any other ideas for cheap food options in Korea? We’d love to hear from you, so let us know in the comments below!