The Traditional Markets of Seoul Part II:
Namdaemun Market, Tongin Market, & Gwangjang Market
Last issue we delved into two contrasting traditional markets: Eunma Underground Shopping Center and Gyeongdong Market. This month, I want to continue our exploration of Korea’s famous markets by introducing three other markets that are all quite famous for food.
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.” The market has over 10,000 stores and it is a famous district for children’s clothes, clothes, glasses, cameras, kitchenware, food, and much more.
This market has had a tumultuous history. It was invaded by the Japanese in 1592, the Chinese in 1636, and the Japanese again in the 1900’s.
It was also burned down in 1954 and 1968. It even was ruled by gangsters (1922-1957). But the market is like a phoenix that keeps rising from ashes and each iteration brings it new goods and products.
Namdaemun market wakes up early and goes to bed late. If you go early in the morning, you’ll see 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 vegetables, egg, red chili paste, and sesame oil. It is a delicious breakfast to start your day.
They also serve bowls of kalguksu (soup made with flat fresh noodles). 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 medicine, meat, cheese, 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 (glass noodle and veggie stuffed fried bread). The hotteok are quite big and they can either be a large snack or a meal.
Add: #21, Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
How to Get There: Seoul Subway Line 4, Hoehyeon Station Exit 5
Shopping: Kitchen equipment, foreign food products, cameras, children’s clothes
Eats: Bibimbap, kalguksu, jokbal (pig trotters), japchae-hotteok
Lunch at Tongin Market
The market started in 1941 as a place for residents nearby to buy fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood, and other everyday things that they needed for their homes. Over time the market has been featured in Korean dramas, movies and music videos and it has become known for some of its specialty foods. The most famous of these is gireum-topokki, 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-topokki tastes like chewy French fries. There are also places that specialize in Korean savory pancakes called jeon, kimchi, and side dishes. As the market’s surroundings became a tourist area, it adapted to be more foreigner friendly. Tongin market offers an innovative lunch program for those looking for a real market experience. Tourists can go to the Dosirak cafe to get a lunch tray and some 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.
Add: #18, Jahamun-ro 4-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
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
Eats: Gireum-topokki, lunch at the dosirak cafe
Dinner at Gwangjang Market
First established in 1905, Gwangjang Market is Korea’s oldest remaining daily market. Originally, it was mainly for selling fabric to make Korean traditional clothes called hanbok. There are stores on the 2nd floor of the market that still specialize in that type of fabric. Luckily, all the people that work at the market have to eat and there is a vibrant food market selling specialty items. The most famous of the dishes is bindaetteok. It is made from mung beans and then fried 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. The fried pancakes pair perfectly with the Korean rice wine makgeolli. What’s more, they have mayak gimbap (literally, “narcotic gimbap”). 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 use the word mayak, or drug, in the name of the dish because the rolls are so delicious you can get addicted. You can also find juk (traditional rice porridge). There are plenty of other things to try, like seafood pajeon, jokbal and tons of traditional egg-battered fried jeon with zucchini, tofu, and even dried fish. There are also many stalls that sell Korean banchan (side dishes).
Add: Changgyeonggung-ro 88, Jongno-gu, Seoul
How to Get There: Go out Jongno 5ga Station (Blue Subway Line 1) Exit 6
Shopping: Korean traditional clothes hanbok, souvenirs, wedding gift sets
Eats: Bindaetteok, mayak gimbap, juk, kalguksu
Park Sung Eun email@example.com
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