|The Traditional Markets of Seoul|
This post is for superfoodies and those looking to spend the day immersed in the Korean Traditional Markets of Seoul. With the right planning, you could hit all the markets in the same day to have breakfast, lunch, dinner with drinks, shopping, and snacks between the meals.
In this post I’m going to help you organize a full day Traditional Market Tour. Plus, these markets are all located north of the Han River so you could easily explore each of these markets without wasting a lot of time traveling. The famous markets we are going to look at today are Namdaemun Market, Tongin Market and Gwangjang Market.
|Namdaemun's King Dumplings|
|hotteok photo by Michelle Min|
Breakfast at Namdaemun Market
Namdaemun Market by Sungnyemun Gate is the place you can get everything and anything except, according to history, “A Cat’s Horn.” It has over 10,000 stores and it is the famous district for children’s clothes, clothes, glasses, cameras, black market foreign goods, kitchenware, food, and much much more. The market has had a tumultuous history. It has been invaded (by the Japanese in 1592, the Chinese 1636, the Japanese again in the 1900’s); it has burned down (1954, 1968); and it has been ruled by gangsters (1922-1957). The market is like a phoenix that constantly rises from the grave and each iteration brings new products and goods into Korea.
Namdaemun market rises early and goes to bed late. If you go early in the morning, you’ll see the vegetable vendors selling peeled garlic, rice, and ginseng on the street. Over by Gate 6, you’ll find Bibimbap Alley where you can get a heaping bowl of bibimbap topped with a generous amount of Korean vegetables, egg, red chili paste and sesame oil. It is a delicious breakfast to start your day. They also serve bowls of calguksu or fresh knife-cut noodle soup. Heading down the road, you’ll encounter steaming meat-filled or red bean-stuffed buns, gelatinous pig’s feet served with shrimp paste, ginseng wine, and an underground shopping complex that specializes in foreign products such as medicines, meats, cheeses, dried fruit and even US military MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat). By Gate 2, you will find a group of little food carts that specialize in making japchae hotteok or glass noodle and veggie stuffed fried bread. The hotteok are quite big and they can either be a large snack or a meal.
Address: Jung-gu Namdaemunsijang 4-gil 21
How to Get There: Seoul Subway Line 4, Hoehyeon Station Exit 5
Shopping: Kitchen Equipment, Foreign Food Products, Cameras, Children’s Clothes
Eats: Bibimbap, Knife Cut Noodles, Jokbal (Pig Trotters), Japchae Hotteok
Lunch at Tongin Market
Tongin market is located just to the west of Gyeongbukgung Market. It started in 1941 as a local market for people living in the area. The different shops in this market sold fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood and other every day things that the residents nearby needed for their homes. Over time the market has been featured in Korean dramas, movies and music videos and it has become know for some of its specialty foods. The most famous of these is Gireum Tteokbokki or fried rice cake. Here rice cakes are fried in soy and seasoned with soy sauce. You can also get a spicy version which has lots of red chili powder. Gireum Tteokbokki tastes like chewy French fries. There are also places that specialize in Korean savory pancakes called Jeon, kimchi, and side dishes.
As the area around this area became a tourist area, the market has adapted to be more foreigner friendly. The market has an innovative lunch program for those looking for the real market experience. Tourists can go to the Dosirak cafe to get a lunch tray and sone Korean traditional coins and then go to participating vendors to pick out their meal. For one lunch you could get sesame spinach, turnip kimchi, fried chicken, bean sprouts, rice, and soup. For another day you could get spicy rice cake, pickled sesame leaves, spicy pork, cabbage kimchi, rice and bean paste stew. The possibilities are endless.
Address: Jongno-gu Pirundae-ro 6-gil 3
How to Get There: From Gyeongbokgung Station (Seoul Subway Line 3) take exit 2 and continue straight for about 700m. The market will be on your left.
Shopping: Korean Food and Grocery Products, souvenirs
Dinner at Gwangjang Market
First established in 1905, Gwangjang Market is Korea’s oldest remaining daily market. It can be found east of downtown Seoul, not far from Dongdaemun Market. Originally, the market was mainly for selling fabrics and cloth to make Korean traditional clothes called hanboks. There are stores on the 2nd floor of the market that specialize in these clothes. It is frequented by budget-minded young couples that are about to get married that need to buy their traditional outfits for the ceremony.
Luckily, all the people that work at the market have to eat and there is a vibrant food market selling speciality items. The most famous of the dishes are their bindaetteok which are made from mung beans and then fried up in oil till crisp. These large disks of fried beans are made by many of the vendors here. There is rivalry between two main shops: Pakgane and Sunheenae. Most claim to be the best but with very different food philosophies. Pakgane offers a "well-being" bindaetteok which has kimchi. Sunheenae offers a fortified pancake with bits of ground pork. Both are delicious, crispy and delicious. And even though they are fried, the mung beans are believed to have detoxifying as well as diuretic properties. This fried pancakes pair perfectly with Korean rice beer (makgeolli).
The market is also famous for their knife-cut noodles served with handmade dumplings. They have mayak kimbap or called narcotic kimbap. These are rice rolls about the size of a small cigar stuffed with some veggies and dipped in a mustard/soy sauce. I think they call them mayak or narcotic kimbap because they are seriously addicting.
There is also Juk---or traditional rice porridge. Usually slow-cooked and sometimes ground to a consistency similar to western cream soups, popular favorites include pumpkin and red bean. In Gwangjang Juk Jip, one of my favorite haunts, you can get whacky flavors like soya bean, and sometimes even white sesame. The main reason why I prefer porridge in these holes-in-the-walls to those form the big chains, is that the rustic ones taste more real. With chunky bits of fibrous pumpkins, it feels more convincing than the overly-smooth stuff that smell of cornstarch.
Aside from the two above-mentioned highlights, there are plenty of other highlights, like seafood Pajeon, Jokbal or pork hocks, and tons of traditional egg-battered fried Jeons like zucchini, tofu, even whole fish.
Also not to miss are traditional wedding gifts like towers of red date stuffed with pine nuts, as well as brilliantly decorated dried beef. There are also many stalls that sell Korean banchan or side dishes.
Address: Jongno-gu Changgyeonggung-ro 88
How to Get There: Go out Jongno 5ga Station (Blue Subway Line 1) Exit 6
Shopping: Korean Hanboks, Souvenirs, Wedding Gift Sets
Eats: Bindaetteok, Mayak Kimbap, Juk, Calguksu