So you’re coming to Korea, or you’re already here and you’re not sure what’s halal and what’s not. What can you eat and what can’t you eat? I’ll be frank, I felt a little disheartened when I first moved here. There are traces of meat or animal fat in things you wouldn’t expect there to be! Now that I’ve been in Korea for 7 months and I know my way around, I can finally enjoy the convenience of… well… convenience stores! ?
[P.S For guaranteed halal snacks in Seoul, head to the Muslim-owned halal mart Kampungku in Myeongdong to stock up on your favourite goodies!]
The main convenience stores you’ll find dotted around South Korea will be CU, 7 Eleven and GS 25. There are definitely more, but I’ll stick to the ones that are easy to find.
Disclaimer: Most of the snacks are not halal-certified, but their ingredients have been personally verified by our Muslim Korean writer. As some time has passed since this article was first published, do note that things may have changed and we recommend you use a translator app to check the ingredients list for sensitive ingredients like 'pork' or 'shortening' first. We recommend you consume these at your own discretion!
1. Samgak KimbapThis small triangular wonder is a super tasty and filling Muslim-friendly snack. “Samgak” translates to three sides (or you know, a triangle!) They’re rice balls with various fillings packaged in a way that the seaweed on the outside stays crispy.
The tuna mayonnaise flavor is a safe bet and you can find it in most convenience stores, but the kimchi and tuna flavours are a hit and miss. If you can’t read Korean, you’re going to want to be a little careful - the blue packs with fish are usually fine, but the purple and pink ones have some sort of meat or pork added to them.
Just to be sure, here's the label you're looking for:
An Emart24 opened up opposite my apartment and look at these beauties! What is Emart24 you ask? Emart is a large supermarket group and they’ve recently started opening 24-hour convenience stores just like CU, GS25 and 7 Eleven. And if you happen to find one, you’ll see that they have a larger variety to offer.
Here’s a few other samgak kimbap options you can consider the next time you pop by a Korean convenience store!
[P.S If you're planning to cook your own meals, stock up on halal groceries at these 9 food marts!]
Tuna mayonnaise with some veggies, pickled radish, and as if by some miracle, NO HAM!
Don’t underestimate this triangular snack: it may look small, but just a few of these will be enough to fill your tummy on the go!
Note: A reader shared with us that the safest place to buy the Tuna flavour is at 7-11, as most of the Tuna kimbap in the other convenient stores contains beef or pork. Do consume this snack at your own discretion.
#HHWT Tip: Buy the kimbap after 8.30pm (at 7-11) to enjoy exclusive offers!
2. Banana milk
Oh yes! This stuff is addictive. I remember having it during my first week in Korea, and my friends and I were immediately hooked! There’s something different about drinking it through the tiny Korean straws, or maybe it’s just me ?
There are lots of types of banana milk but this particular type by Binggrae are the ones you NEED to try!
Although my friend already confirmed the halal status for me beforehand, I did a little research and discovered that Binggrae has received Halal certification, so chug away to your heart’s content ☺
3. Melon ice cream
This one goes hand in hand with the banana milk; you absolutely have to try this! I ended up buying a bigger pack from Home Plus and stocking it in my freezer ? There are also a bunch of ice lollies that are suitable for vegetarians!
If all else fails, convenience stores usually have a small selection of ready-to-eat boiled eggs. You also have a range of bottled and canned juices and coffees to keep you going ☕️
Just peel and go! It’s an easy little protein pick me up ?
4. Crispy seaweed snacks
Koreans are crazy about it, and my students love eating it with rice at school and asking the lunch ladies for more. I’ve been told that it’s also good for your hair which is definitely a plus!
What’s more, the plain salted ones are vegan-friendly! Since most of the halal snacks in Korea are sweet, it’s a nice change and relatively healthy compared to the other greasier snacks on offer.
Note: A few readers have mentioned that other flavors of the snack might contain rice wine or beef flavoring, hence we recommend sticking to the plain salted ones!
Chips are a practical must-have snack no matter what part of the world you’re in, and Korea’s definitely no exception to the rule ☺ My Korean friend helped me read the packaging and we managed to find these two that don’t have any traces of meat!
This particular brand is called 아 그칩. The two flavours here are cheese volcano (right) and ranch (left)! They’re a little sweet and are super light, so you could probably eat a bag on your own ?
#HHWT Tip: When you check the ingredients, the quickest way to check if it has meat is to check the allergens. You’ll be surprised to find that some cheese-flavoured chips will have beef or some type of meat in them (don’t worry, there are still a handful that are Muslim friendly!)
[P.S While shopping for snacks, check out these 8 best shopping hotspots with Muslim-friendly food nearby!]
Look for the word 고기. If you see it, steer clear!
A classic all-time favourite snack among Koreans and foreigners alike, Pepero is a lovely snack to keep in your bag. There’s even a special day dedicated to giving Pepero to your loved ones on November 11th because when written numerically it’s 11/11 (four Peperos all lined up, yum!) ?
As there can be multiple factories manufacturing Pepero (meaning different batches may have differing halal status), we recommend only buying the boxes you can find at Muslim-owned halal food marts in Korea such as Kampungku in Myeongdong, Seoul.
7. Dried fruits and veggies
This one’s going to be a hit and miss. I first found out about these from my co-teacher. You can find chestnuts, sweet potato, dried strawberries, pears, and the list goes on. Sweet potatoes are usually the easiest to find in most stores. Here’s what they look like:
You can also find dried fruit at Olive Young's little food section, so remember to stock up on those the next time you drop by Olive Young for your cosmetics needs!
If you’re not a fan of dried fruits, you can find readily-packaged fruits in most Korean convenience stores. Ahh, the luxury! It’s still somewhat cheap considering you’re buying a ready-packed fruit at a convenience store!
8. Dr. You cereal bar
You can find this at almost all of the convenience stores. They’re usually by the cashier or around the front of the store. A yummy grab-and-go snack indeed ☺
It’s chewy and super nutty so it makes for a nice mid morning pick me up.
You can have the original flavor (pictured above) or the light bar (honey and oat.) I prefer the original but my friend opts for the light version. Besides, no one ever said you can’t just get both if you can’t decide ☺
9. Yakgwa cookies A lot of cookies in Korea unfortunately have animal shortening or the shortening isn’t specified, making it questionable. These cookies are definitely more traditional than the colourful alternatives and they have a lot less ingredients! “In Korean, “yak” is pharmacy, and since these little cookies are traditionally sweetened with honey, they were given the name “yakwa”. This snack is usually eaten during special occasions, perhaps because they’re quite dense. It’s not that popular among the younger generation but you’ll definitely come across it if you live or work in Korea. The taste is simple and buttery and they’re small and incredibly compact! Think deep fried dough, but tastier than what it sounds ? Have them with a nice cup of tea (or coffee, if that’s more your thing!).
Some of our readers have alerted us to yagkwa cookies being made with rice wine or other alcoholic substances. As we are unable to determine whether this applies to all yakgwa cookie brands, we advise you to not consume these cookies for now ☹️
10. Instant drinks (ice or hot)
If you’re in Korea between May and September, chances are you’ll need to cool down and grab a cold drink. Every convenience store I’ve been into has a little freezer with cups of ice. Nearby, you’ll find large sachets of coffee, chocolate drinks, ice teas and "ades" (think lemonade) ?
[P.S For more sweet treats, check out these 12 cafes that are so, Seoul cool!]
#HHWT Tip: You’ve got to try Chilsung Cider! I know what you’re thinking: CIDER?! Worry not my friends, this is just a type of Korean sprite☺
[P.S Complete your Seoul trip with these top 4 Muslim-friendly eateries!]
I hope this list will help you find some halal snacks to enjoy while you’re exploring Korea! Next time you find yourself feeling hungry, head to a convenience store and look out for these little treats. Since most of them are open till late and easily available everywhere, you won't find yourself with nothing to eat!