One of the things that Seoul is undoubtedly famous for is its food. Street food, traditional Korean food, fusion cuisine… you name it, they’ve got it! Unlike most of our other trips, much of our time in Seoul was spent hunting for good food at local haunts. Much of Seoul’s most delicious food can be found at its local markets, at a fraction of the price you pay in restaurants. One such market is Gwangjang Market (광장시장).
Gwangjang Market is a wholesale market which is steeped in history, and its humble beginnings can be traced back to 1905. The market is an all-in-one stopover, where you can get good quality fabric, cloths, mattresses, bedding and small souvenirs. There are also shops selling local snacks and side dishes and ingredients (banchan 반찬) in big portions.
The market is particularly famous for its Mokjagolmok 먹자골목 (translated: Let’s Eat! Alley), where you can sample freshly made local food in generous portions. Each stall specialises in a particular food item and you can have your fill before moving on to the next. This place is frequented by both locals and tourists, and can be crowded even on a weekday morning. It is the perfect place for breakfast and lunch!
The place can be pretty packed during eating hours, but fret not as the turnover rate is very quick – people have a fuss-free meal and once they are done, they pay up, pack up and leave. Also, as stalls selling the same kind of food are congregated together, you can always hop to the next stall if there are no seats left. In fact, we have come to learn that the standard of the food is pretty much the same, so while some recommend certain more ‘famous’ stalls (i.e. those that have appeared on television programmes like Running Man), we soon realised that they are more or less similar. The only thing to look out for would be that you are served by a Korean ahjumma (아줌마 or auntie) if you want your food to be more ‘authentic’ because there is an increasing number of Chinese stall owners here. (Note: Some Korean ahjummas can speak Chinese very well)
Anyway, here’s what we tried (and recommend) at Gwangjang market!
#1 Mayak Gimbap 마약김밥 (translated: ‘Drug’ seaweed rice roll): Looks unassuming but the moment you dip it in the tangy mustard sauce and place it in your mouth, you just can’t stop eating! It is that addictive and quite different from the usual gimbap you get elsewhere.
#2 Ddeokbokki 떡볶이 (translated: Rice cakes in spicy pepper sauce): Another popular street food amongst locals and tourists alike, the rice cakes at this market are particularly chewy and springy, yet soft and flavourful. We found the spiciness just right, but if you are not that into spicy food, this might be a tad overwhelming.
#3 Bindaetteok 빈대떡 (translated: Mung bean pancake) and Makgeolli 막걸리 (translated: Fermented rice wine): Gwangjang market is particularly famous for its bindaetteok, which is made from freshly ground mung bean. You can watch the ahjummas laboriously grinding these beans in their mortar stoneware, and making the pancakes in front of you! This is best eaten when dipped in their special sauce, with a bowl of refreshing makgeolli.
#4 Eomuk 어묵 (translated: Korean fishcake): This would be a sure winner for winter, but it you enjoy having a satisfying warm bowl of soup and you love fishcake, indulge yourself in a bowl of eomuk (soup is refillable free of charge). This goes particularly well with ddeokbokki if you need help with washing down the spiciness.
#5 Jook 죽 (translated: Porridge): Jook is a popular breakfast option as it is easy on the tummy and is filling. The most popular types of jook available are Jeonbokjuk 전복죽 (Abalone porridge), Patjuk 팥죽 (Red bean porridge with glutinous rice balls) and Hobakjuk 호박죽 (Pumpkin porridge with glutinous rice balls). Patjuk and Hobakjuk are mildly sweet, owing to the ingredients used. Unlike other types of porridge, Korean jook has a thick consistency and the rice grains are blended before they are cooked, so the porridge feels smooth and very comforting. Korean glutinous rice balls also do not come with any filling, unlike their Chinese counterparts. We tried the Jeonbokjuk and Hobakjuk – both were equally good!
#6 Boribap 보리밥 (translated: Mixed vegetable barley rice): This might not be on the menu, or may be written as the more well-known Bibimbap 비빔밥 (translated: Mixed vegetable rice). The only difference between the two is that Boribap uses rice with barley instead of just plain white rice, and is a healthier and tastier option (not to mention uniquely Korean!) – Look closely at the picture below. So instead of asking for Bibimbap, try to ask for Boribap and chances are, the ahjumma would gladly oblige 🙂 The fresh vegetables are displayed before you, and the ahjumma proceeds to fill your bowl with goodness 🙂 Mix the rice with the vegetables and gochujang (red pepper paste) and you have a hearty meal before you!
3 minute walk from Exit 7 or 8.
Onward to yummy and affordable food! 🙂
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