The Traditional Markets of Seoul Part I:
Eunma Underground Shopping Center & Gyeongdong Market
In Korea, if you are looking for insight into real Korean life, then you should visit traditional markets. They are a peek into the past and are very important to the identity of the country. When modern shopping centers cropped up, people in the traditional markets often protested and boycotted. It resulted in laws being made so big supermarkets have to close every two weeks. Also, civil servants go once a month to a traditional market to shop and eat. Some companies even give their employees traditional market gift certificates as rewards for good work.
There are traditional, open air markets for all different types of goods such as antiques at the Seoul Folk Market in Sinseol-dong and electronics in Yongsan. But I think the most exciting ones are the food markets. Every city and town in Korea has them. Some cities will even have weekly or biweekly markets in the city squares where you can get the freshest produce, livestock, herbs, and other things directly from the farmers. It is as fresh as it gets and the sheer cornucopia of products offered will amaze you.
Revitalization of the Markets
The traditional markets are constantly looking to improve and modernize. For example, Tongin Market in Seoul has a lunchbox cafe where you can get food from different vendors to make your own personalized meal. Artists have painted murals to liven up Majangdong Beef Market. At Nambu Market in Jeonju City, they opened up shops for young entrepreneurs to start up their businesses.
The other great thing is that prices are low because the rents are controlled so you can get great bargains there.
There are so many great traditional markets in Korea so I’ll start highlighting the best ones in this issue and continue in next month’s issue. Here comes part one.
The Modern Traditional Market at Eunma Underground Shopping Center
My favorite market in Seoul is Eunma Underground Shopping Center near Daechi Station. Built around the late 1970s, it cooks for and supplies most of the affluent Gangnam people that live in the nearby Eunma Apartments. I feel this should be the first place that tourists should visit because it has a great array of food, it is compact, and it is clean. Here you can shop, have lunch, and even get coffee. The market has a positive energy as every stall seems to be hard at work. Many restaurants and food stalls at the market offer ready-made meals so busy families can buy a soup, pick out a variety of side dishes, and then just make rice at home and eat. It’s quick, simple, and healthy. They have some famous restaurants here as well such as those for kimchi dumplings, noodles, and pumpkin porridge. The market has a number of the very best rice cake and jeon (pan-fried savory pancakes) shops as well. My favourite place to eat at Eunma Underground Shopping Center is Manna Topokki, which is famous for the assortment of tempura and spicy rice cakes. There is also a great steamed dumplings place that does savory, pork and vegetable steamed buns as well as black, red-bean stuffed bread. Probably the most famous place is the Eunma Kalguksu restaurant, which is always packed. Its menu is simple. You can get kalguksu (knife-cut noodles), sujebi (Korean pasta soup), or seokkoseo (mix of the two dishes). It’s a hearty bowl and cheap (5,000 won). There is a spicy garnish on the side and some kimchi. It’s perfectly simple.
Eunma Underground Shopping Center
Directions: Go out Exit 3 of Daechi Station (Orange Line/Line 3)
Open Hours: Monday to Saturday, 8:00 A.M to 10:00 P.M.
Gyeongdong Market and Seoul’s Oriental Medicine Market
In Seoul, the largest traditional market area is by Jegi and Cheongnyangni Stations. Here you have Gyeongdong Market and Yakryeong Market. They used to be the main shopping areas in Seoul. Their heyday was in the 1950s and 1970s but it is where senior citizens still shop and where many restaurants can get lots of bargains on fruits, vegetables, ginseng, and more. This area is the complete opposite of Eumna Market and has a run-down, ancient feel. The Oriental Medicine Street (Yakryeong Market) side, which is marked by a large oriental gate, is overflowing with herbaceous smells such as cinnamon, licorice, jujube, mugwort, and ginseng. The streets are filled with shops with wonderfully bizarre oriental ingredients such as dried golden root (hwanggye), deer antlers, turtle shells, and even dried lizards. Walking through the oriental medicine market reminds me of the witch’s cauldron scene in Macbeth. There is also a large concentration of oriental hospitals and clinics.
On the food market side (Gyeongdong Market), you’ll find stall after stall of the freshest Korean fruits, vegetables, nuts, fermented bean pastes and sauces, dried marine products, seafood, and meat. This market is dedicated to the old Korean belief that food is medicine, so you’ll see a glimpse into the past. Now, if you are hungry, in the basement of the food market side there are food stalls in the back. They serve simple lunches such as soups, stews, and bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and beef). My favourite is Jeonju Shikdang because the chef makes all of her foods from scratch and she sources products from the city of Jeonju. I would recommend her bibimbap or her sundae-guk (Korean sausage soup). It’s not a fancy meal, but it sure is delicious. Also by gate two is one of my favorite chapsal-donut (donut made with glutine rice) shops where they make them fresh every couple of minutes. The donuts don’t have red beans in them so they are fluffy yet chewy. If you wander down the market by gate three, you’ll find fried chicken and pig’s trotter alley.
Gyeongdong Oriental Market
Directions: Go out Exit 2 of Jegi Station (Dark Blue Line/Line 1)
Open Hours: Oriental Market 9:00 A.M to 7:00 P.M., Traditional Food Market 4:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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