Recently a blogger from the Philippines shared her expenses in touring Korea, and her post drew flak for claiming that in her 5-days-and-4-nights of stay here, she spent only 12,000 pesos (around 235 dollars). She was able to purchase a 3,000-peso roundtrip ticket (around 59 dollars) from Jeju Air, paid 3,120 (around 61 dollars) for her 5D4N stay at a guesthouse and survived with a ‘manwon’ budget on food everyday (That’s barely 450 pesos or 9 dollars!).
The price of the ticket may come as a shock to many of us who know how expensive it can be to travel overseas, but this extremely tight budget is possible for travelers who wait patiently for promo tickets from airlines such as Cebu Pacific, Jeju Air and Philippine Airlines and are lucky to get that most coveted ticket. A couple of years ago, I was able to buy an inexpensive roundtrip ticket in Cebu Pacific, but the cheapest I got was about 6,000 pesos (117 dollars).
Guesthouses, on the other hand, can be low-priced if the room is shared by a group.
What stupefied readers the most was the blogger’s budget on food. I feel kinda sorry for all the bashing she got from those who have lived in Korea for years and know how much the food really costs here, but I’m not siding with her either. Personally, I think she should have given more details of her budget or at least tried to explain what the ‘manwon’ lunch and dinner included since she was encouraging Filipino travelers to visit Korea with minimal budget. On the contrary, I think bashing someone for sharing a memorable experience is a bit out of hand.
Now, is it really possible to survive a day with that ‘manwon’ food budget? As someone who has lived in Korea for years and has eaten almost every Korean food there is (except poshintang or dog soup), I’m telling you it is possible… but only if you don’t eat like a horse!
If you’re on a ‘manwon’ budget in Korea, what can you eat for lunch and dinner?
I’m going to name a few:
Street food ~ PRICE: from 500 to 3,000 won (23 to 137 pesos)
Everybody knows that street food is cheap anywhere in the world, but here in Korea, there are tons of mouth-watering and satiating street food to try. Some can be healthy, too. Two or three sticks of hot odeng or fish cake, for example, can squelch your hunger for more or less 3,000 won, like what my tourist friend did when he was starving from his walks around Seoul. There’s barbecue and sausage that you can buy for 2,000 – 2,500 won a stick. Pig-blood sausage may sound disgusting, but sunde is a must-try. An order will not cost you more than 3,000 won. Heck, there’s even tteokbokki you can enjoy for 500 won a cup!
Kimbop (rice rolls) and other bunsik food ~ PRICE: 1,500 – 5,500 won (68 – 250 pesos)
Inexpensive Korean food like kimbop, ramyon, tteokbokki, twigim, etc. can be bought in bunsik or bunsik jib (snack restaurants). Kimbop may be considered street food, but this is a common snack for Koreans when they go on a picnic or a meal for Koreans who are always on the go. The country is teeming with kimbop restaurants that sell various kinds of rice rolls: tuna, kimchi, cheese, bulgogi, even tonkatsu! Don’t waste your money on cheap kimbop from convenience stores though, because they’re nasty! If you go to a kimbop restaurant, you can have soup and side dish, usually yellow radish, for free. Some kimbop restaurants have kimbop and udon set for 5,000 to 5,500 won.
The two dishes I’m going to mention next can be found in the same restaurant.
Pyohejang guk (beef bone stew) ~ PRICE: 7,000 to 8,000 won (319 – 363 pesos)
This spicy version of nilagang baka, short ribs and vegetable stew in the Philippines, has everything you need in a meal: lots of meat, vegetables and steamed rice which is served separately. You will also get two or three side dishes which is a common thing in Korea when you order a meal.
sundae guk (blood sausage soup) ~ PRICE: 5,000 – 8,000 won (227 to 363 pesos)
In the Philippines, we have dinuguan (pork blood stew). In Korea, they have sundae guk (blood sausage soup). The first time my husband ordered sundae guk for me, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but I ended up finishing the whole bowl! When you eat sundae kuk, you won’t even know you’re eating soup with blood sausage in it, unless someone tells you. The blood sausage is prepared so well that you won’t even smell anything out-of-the-ordinary and there’s no rancid aftertaste. Just like pyeohejang guk, sundae guk is served with steamed rice and side dishes. If you like exotic and spicy food, you will enjoy sundae guk.
Noodles are quite affordable, too, and they are delicious. Besides, ramyon and jjampong which are popular in the Philippines, you may want to try…
Jjajangmyeon (black noodles) ~ PRICE: 3,500 to 5,500 won (159 to 250 pesos)
This noodle is actually Chinese food, but since it is widely popular in Korea, you can find it anywhere. They even have a day called “Black noodles’ Day” for single men and women. Jjajangmyeon is tasty and filling. The sauce has got bits of pork and onion, and it’s topped with thinly-sliced cucumber. This one is served with yellow radish and some onions as side dishes.
Naengmyon (cold noodles) ~ PRICE: 5,000 to 7,000 won (227 to 319 pesos)
Another filling dish that is popular in Korea is naengmyeon. It’s basically thin, chewy noodles served with icy soup, sweet chilli pepper paste, a slice of egg and some radish or cucumber. There are two kinds of naengmyeon. If you’re not into spicy noodles, go for mul naengmyeon, the one that is served with icy broth. If you like it spicier, go for bibim naengmyeon, same ingredients but served with no broth.
(Cheap) Hansik buffet PRICE: 5,000 (227 pesos)
Yup, you heard me right, buffet for 5,000 won… but this isn’t the kind of buffet that has it all. The food served in these kinds of buffet are Korean food that you can find in a typical Korean home. I’ve been to two cheap hansik buffets, one in my area in Namyangju and the other in Guri. I didn’t fancy the food, but for the price of 5,000 won, what can one expect? The food, however, was enough to sate my hunger. These types of buffet are frequented by workers and students.
Convenience store doshirak or bento (lunchbox) PRICE: 4,000 to 6,000 won (182 to 272 pesos)
When my husband stayed at the hospital with me, he survived for three days on bento meals from the covenience store. I have also tried them. These bentos are not that bad. Most convenience stores in Korea have a microwave oven where you can heat up your bento.
These are just some of the food you can budget your manwon with here in Korea. There are plenty of meals you can actually have for 450 pesos (9 dollars) or less, but you’ll be missing out on all the delectable dishes Korea has to offer if you will tour this country on a very tight budget. My advise, as a former tourist in Korea, is to save enough money to enjoy Korean cuisine. You don’t have to spend much. A 20 to 25 dollar food budget a day will be enough. With that kind of budget, you’ll get to enjoy grilled meat, drinks, authentic traditional Korean food and more.