Sugarcoating the facts: Junk snacks have returned

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Sugarcoating the facts: Junk snacks have returned

Once upon a time, there lived a mother frog and son frog. The son was ornery, and would do the exact opposite of what he was told. When the mother frog told him to go outside and play, he would stay home. When told to go to the mountain, he would go to the sea. One day, the mother frog got deathly sick. She called the son to her bedside and told him to bury her near the pond, expecting him to do the opposite, and bury her on high ground. But the son, making amends for his past, followed his mother's last words. That's why frogs come out and croak on a rainy day -- they're worried mother's grave might be washed away. The message in the Korean folk tale is that everybody is attracted to the forbidden, especially when they're children. Until a few years ago, the fruit of good and evil for Korean kids was cheap snacks sold at stationer's shops near schools, called "junk snacks" by teachers and parents.

Affordable and tasty, junk snacks came in all shapes and flavors, and consuming them was part of elementary kids' daily routine, though their parents never found out. The snacks, in flashy and gaudy packaging, were saccharine sweet or mouth-wateringly salty, and had absolutely no nutritional value.

Times have changed, however, and now children prefer Western snacks more than the good, or bad ol' nostalgic ones. But grown-up frogs who miss the old snacks can find them at online shops that specialize in selling the quaint products. Kim Eui-chan, a manager at one of the online snack shops, explained, "Fewer junk snacks are sold at corner stores these days; they're being replaced by more modern snacks."

Those online stores started springing up earlier this year. They offer gift sets with several kinds of the snacks put together, priced from 6,000 won ($5) to 20,000 won. The online shops have brought together junk snacks still in production but hard to find, like jjondigi or jjoljjoli, sweet and sticky treats that are best when heated in a frying pan, ttolttoli, slices of dried fish seasoned with mysterious hot spices, and sinhodeung, hard candies colored after traffic signals.

Years ago, these snacks never cost more than 200 won, so the gift packages can seem rather pricey. But for nostalgia buffs in their 20s and 30s, the price is not so bad. Moon Yeong-ran, an office worker in her late 20s, is a junk-snack fanatic. "It reminds me of my childhood," she says. "I often order gift sets for myself; sometimes, I give them to my friends and they love them."

Ms. Moon just found out that her mother was a big fan of "Apollo," a jelly-like sweet in banana, orange and chocolate flavors that you squeeze out of short straws. "My mother actually loved it when I gave her a box of junk snacks, which was a big surprise to me," she said.

But are the snacks bad for you? An official at the food safety division of the Korea Food and Drug Association, Rhim Gi-sub, said that production and distribution of the junk snacks are approved, though not necessarily healthful. Good or bad, Korea's grown-up frogs are gobbling up the junk snacks; Mr. Kim at the online shop says business couldn't be better.

by Chun Su-jin

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