To get a good understanding of Korean confectionary, one of the best things to try when in the country is Hangwa (韓菓). These sweets are a great tradition for Koreans both young and old!
Korea is not known for its vast array of desserts like say Japan or Thailand or the UK, but what it does have is a cool selection of confectionary known as hangwa. This hangwa is very historic and is just as popular in Korea as kueh is in South East Asia or pastila is in Russia. After initially thinking that it could be very expensive and quite hard to find on the streets of Seoul, I realise that it was far more common than I thought – even some cafés served it!
“Han” means “Korean” and “Gwa” means “confectionery”. Most sources therefore define hangwa as “Korean confectionary” (韓菓), and a counterpart of yanggwa (洋果), which is the term for Western confectionery. There can be many types of Hangwa in Korea, including jelly sweets, savoury sweets, and even biscuits. Some hangwa are made from glutinous rice or corn, but so far I never seen any kimchi hangwa – but I am sure it exists somewhere (not that I’d try it!).
I saw so many different shapes around Seoul, especially in some of the more boutique cafés around Hongdae and in particular in little retail outlets in Seoul Station. Historically, some of the shapes had a proper meaning, i.e. butterflies symbolized happy marriage, lotus stood for harmony – whereas bats brought luck! Hangwa shapes now include balls, cubes, long tubes, and printed with various patterns. My hangwa was mainly in long tube format, which made them look like pieces of liquorice, but I did also see some disc-shaped hangwa, which made them look like colourful cookies!