South Korea: The Convenience Stores Haven
Convenience stores are a HUGE deal in Korea. You will find them at every corner, no matter how hard you try to avoid them there is nothing you can do… You must accept your fate and buy food there. Luckily for you, Enkor is here to save your day! We will help you to understand how these stores work and how to get the best of them, let's go!
Which one to go to?
Source: Retail News Korea
You will quickly realise that 3 companies own most of the outlets: GS25, CU and 7Eleven. They all have more than 10 000 stores all over Korea and together they account for more than 80% of all the convenience stores in the country.
The other notable brands you might also come across would be Emart 24 and Ministop.
They are usually opened 24/7 and they all offer similar goods & services so for the most part you will often find yourself going to the closest opened store. However with time I came to enjoy GS25 a little bit more because of the fried ready-to-eat thingys available at the counter, but more on this later.
Useful for your daily life.
Trash recycling is a bit difficult in Korea and you must have special bags depending on the different items you want to throw, just ask to the counter a “food trash bag” or “regular trash bag” and you will get what you want without fail.
If you run low on your T-Money card and need a quick refill you can go to the nearest convenience store and recharge it at the counter. Present your card and the amount of cash you want to refill in and the clerk will do it for you!
Is it July, the rainy season and it's raining like nothing you have ever seen before but you were too stupid to grab your umbrella? Well I definitely can't relate but I will try my best to help you. Once again you can find a little piece of heaven in the convenience stores! When it's raining they often put out racks of really cheap umbrellas for 3~4$ and you can also rest and eat inside in most of them, they got chairs, microwaves and hot water dispenser.
And to finish, a little tip: keep an eye open for promotions, you will often see 1+1 or 2+1 promotions, which are self explanatory: if you buy one (or two), you get another one for free! Other popular promotions are “get a free drink if you buy this food” and don't worry if you don't speak Korean, pictures and easy-to-understand signs are displayed on the racks.
What can I buy there?
Finally we get to the most important, the products. In convenience stores you will be able to find a couple of daily goods like pen, paper, tape, etc. But the core of the shop will be food and beverages.
Daily life goods
A wide range of casual goods to help you face any daily inconvenience, you will find plugs, toothbrushes, band-aids, clothes, tape, etc.
Ramyeon, prepared rice and other cup noodles take up a big slice of the available space.
- Buldak carbonara - Incredibly spicy & incredibly tasty, if you don't do good with spicy food go easy on the sauce. If you have a heavy hand and you end up in tears with the mouth in fire, don't worry, in the end it will all be worth it.
- Rice with egg & spam - all the prepared rice are good but this one is definitely my favourite, follow the instructions and mix well and you'll reach cloud 9 in no time.
Salty & Sweet snacks
Just behind the instant food you can find the instant snacks! The amount of unhealthy but delicious looking snacks is off the charts!
- Shrimps/ Crab snacks - a salty heaven for all seafood lovers, it's surprisingly good.
- Homerun Ball - one of the most famous and popular chocolate snack, I personally am not a big fan.
- Binch - simply put this is the best Korean snack of all times. The chocolate is rosted in a volcano for 3 years and left in the wild where it ages and sources its taste from mother Earth. The wheat grains are carefully handpicked and milled in a 3000 years old traditional way. King Sejong would be proud.
The best part of the convenience store in my opinion. It covers a great range of food so I'll have to give 1 recommendation per category.
Kimbap and triangle kimbap will be your go-to if you have no time and want to be full quickly. Juste be careful when you open the triangle kimbap because for some reason I still haven't figured out the plastic is intertwined with the dried seaweed. My favourite one is the classic tuna-mayo.
Burgers, burritos and other similar meals are usually good and without surprise. The bulgogi burrito is my favourite.
Sandwishes, are a lot more trickier, most of them look normal at first glance but when you look more carefully you realise your mistake… yep you just bite into a “egg with sweet potatoes vegetables and strawberry jam” sandwish. I don't really have any recommendations, you should just pick the weirdest one you can find, you might not like it but at least you'll have fun.
Full meals are usually my go-to, they are a bit pricier than other options but they are enough for 1 person. The ones with spicy meat are usually great!
Source: Korea By Bike
Meat skewers will often times be next to all the previous food, I haven't tried that many but I would argue that they are often a safe choice, and the chicken ones are really good.
Finally the most desperatly empty part of the store is often the best one as well. Next to the cashier a hot food stand is gracefully waiting for you, in there you will be able to see and try different crispy chiken, fried potatoes and other corn dog.
The drinks & deserts
Source: Trazy - Make your own tea directly at the store
Plenty of waters, sodas and beers are accessible in the back of the stores, you can even find some more stronger alcohol flasks but they are quite pricey.
Lots of more exotic drinks and deserts such as ice cream and the famous DIY slushies can be found as well!
Such small places have so many possibilities but the best thing to do is actually simply to go there and try whatever makes your heart flutter. Good luck and have fun!
Korea By Bike