Traditional markets are always one of the most exciting sites in South Korea. I’ve blogged about several markets within Seoul, the Noryangjin Fish Market, and the Tongin Market at the west side of Gyeongbok Palace which is famed for its Korean Dosirak (a kind of assorted lunchbox). This time round was Gwangjang Market, one of the oldest market in Seoul.
Gwangjang market was opened since 1905, serving the nation for about 110 years to date. A historical site for more than a century, the market is simply what we called 살아 있는 박물관 in Korean, literally, a living museum.
Various sections are available at the market. Other than the usual meat & poultry, fresh veggies and daily utensils section you can find in a market back at home, you can find those sections brimming with the”truly Korean-ness” : Dried food section which consist of dried fishes and seafood, dried seaweed, traditional Korean snacks (Hangwa한과) section, Traditional Wedding & Ritual Item Section, Hanbok (traditional costumes) Section and banchan (side dishes 반찬) Section.
The traditional market certainly offers a better deal compared to branded department store. My mom did her dried goods shopping here and brought home some good dried fishes, baby prawns, squid and seaweed home and of course, at a relatively reasonable price. She is very happy with what she got and I guess if you’re getting some local products as a gift, the traditional market is the place for you.
Personally, I think the quirky environment offers a vivid array of colours for your photos. Certainly a unique location for some gorgeous and exotic pictures.
My recommendation, especially for self-boarding students who love Korean food, is the banchan store located near to the dried fish/seaweed section.
This banchan store offers an array of seasonal banchan (Korean side dishes). Get 3 or 4 different types of marinated banchan home and keep it in your fridge. These banchans come handy especially when you’re rushing for reports or preparing for an exam. Just have your rice ready, take out a small portion from each banchan container and your meal is settled!
They do offer flight-friendly packaging so you can bring some flavours of Korea back home if you want!
Ganjang-gejang (간장게장) — Raw blue crabs (꽃게) marinated in soy sauce. These babies are a must-try in Korea, especially when they are in season (spring and autumn). The crabs are marinated after they are put to bed in a freezer, so they are raw, plump, sweet and juicy.
Remember to get some female crabs (with dome shape lower stomach) home so that you can mix up some rice with the creamy crab roe! Too bad I was diagnosed with shellfish allergy some two years ago and I have quit eating shellfish since my diagnosis. However, I can still remember how wonderful they taste like two years ago! Definitely a must try for all crab lovers.
The food section is another attraction in the market. Tasty and affordable, this place is a heaven if you are on budget. A wide selection of food is available here at the market. On top of all, the very first thing one should try is their bindaetteok (빈대떡), known as mung bean pancakes.
We got a seat at Soon-hee Ne (순희네), which was said to be the best bindaeddeok in the market. Their clientele includes the Dae Jang Geum actress Lee Yong-ae and Tim Burton. Even Running Man went down to film at their stall.
By the way, Soon-hee Ne practises a “no seat no talk” policy. LOL. So what you need to do first is perhaps give up on your Instagram and secure a seat at the back of their stall, THEN order your food. You can always come back and continue snapping away after you fill up your tummy anyway.
So here’s the bindaetteok, a pancake made of mung bean gravy mixed with beansprout, onions and pepper, pan-fried into golden crisp. It is crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.
Piping hot and very filling, it is best to match the dish with makgeolli (Korean Traditional Rice Wine). I find it quite plain in taste. However, the dipping sauce made of vinegar, soy sauce and pickled onion complement the pancake really well. Not something that I am madly in love, but it wasn’t bad.
Other than bindaetteok, the food available in the market includes assorted pancakes, barley rice, Mayak (drug) kimbap and meat dumplings. All you need to do is to find an empty seat in front of the store, sit down, order and enjoy!
Another highlight of the trip was actually this whole pomfret fish pancake somewhere in the middle of the food alley. This is one very big jeon(전, the Korean pancake) made of a whole fish. I was astonished by its size and I guess I am not the only one?
So this is pretty much about Gwangjang Market. It was my first visit after so many years and I clearly have a long list of must-eats to complete in the market. (I will come back, no worries). I must say these traditional markets really have something that keep people coming back for more.
My tips for enjoying your market trip to the fullest: Find a seat and cosy up in the inviting atmosphere, and share your food with people around you. (offering to share your makgeolli is always good). That is the spirit of the traditional market that I adore. : )
Lastly, The market is just walking distance to the magnificent DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza). It is just one subway station away. So I suggest putting Gwangjang Market and DDP on the same day on your itinerary. However, if you are planning to buy some banchan home, it is better you head right back to your hotel/home and have them in your fridge safely before coming out again. (That is extremely important when you’re travelling in the summer.)
9am to 6pm for usual market stalls. 10am-7pm for shop houses, 9am-11pm for food stores.
Close on Sunday.
6-1, Yeji-dong, Jongno-Gu, Seoul.
광장시장. 서울시 종로구 예지동 6-1.
Nearest Station: Jongno 5 Ga, Exit no. 8
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