Looking for a place to get the best bargains and devour on sumptuous snacks when you travel to Korea? Seoul has just that.
Contrary to popular beliefs, Korea is more than just Kpop (Korean pop music), Korean idols, Korean BBQ and K-dramas (Korean dramas). The best way to truly know a city is to get lost inside a local market. You get to delve deeper into the more intriguing Korean culture and tradition.
These traditional Korean markets, also known as ‘sijang’ in Korean, have been around for 700 years. Despite the developed modern part of Seoul, you can still get a glimpse into a more traditional part of Korea right here at these markets. Here are four of our favourite bustling markets in Seoul that we’ll always return to whenever in town.
Why go: Namdaemun is South Korea’s largest and oldest market, dated from the 1400s. This open-air market would usually be crowded to the brim at both days and nights from 10am to 5am. Though you should keep in mind that some shops may not be open on Sundays. In Namdaemun, there are also shopping centres like Sungyemun Imported Goods Shopping Centre, Daedo Shopping Centre, and Daedo Arcade among others that you can check out.
You can find literally anything at this market – from clothes to handicrafts, hardwares to accessories, and most importantly, FOOD! At the food alley, it’s all about street eats like tteokbokki (glutinous Korean rice cakes in spicy red sauce), dakkochi (grilled chicken skewers), hotteok (Korean sweet pancake filled with brown sugar stuffing), and many more. If you have a more daring adventurous, you can head for the live seafood section and try their most widely known san-nakji (moving bits of live baby octopus).
You would need to eat this with various sauces to avoid suffocation as the suction cups of these live tentacles are still active as they wriggle down your throat. As much as it may be squirmy to most people, this is one of the most popular live seafood in Korea.
Insider tip: If you’re lucky, you may be handed an extra dish (or two) by the lady behind the counter when eating in Kalguksu (Noodle Soup Alley). She did not mistake your order — she’s just being nice. So, do accept the plate graciously, say a simple kamsahamnida (thank you), and enjoy.
How to get there: Located in the central area of Seoul (Namchang-dong, Jung-gu), Namdaemun Market can be reached directly by subway. Simply take Line 4 to Heoyeon Station and get out at either Gate 4, 5 or 6.
Why go: Gwangjang market is Korea’s very first permanent market that was established in year 1905. Like Namdaemun market, this market is one of the largest markets in Korea, with more than 5,000 stalls spanning an area of 42,000 square metres! It is open from 9am to 6pm and closed on Sundays. This market’s popularity spiked when it was featured in a famous Korean variety TV show ‘Running Man’. On the market’s second floor, there are vendors selling a wide array of bed sheets, satin, silk and any kind of fabric that you would like, living up to its ‘textile market’ title. So if you’re looking to buy a hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) as a souvenir or for special occasions, this might be a good place to search for one that is custom made to your size.The cost ranges from $500-$2000.
Of course, you can’t forget about the various food vendors here. They sell all kinds of traditional Korean street food like bindaetteok (crispy deep-fried mung bean pancakes with vinegary dipping sauce), gimbap (seaweed rice roll with sesame oil), or gyeranbbang (Korean egg bread). If you’re one who’d like to try something new (and possibly odd to some), you can get your hands on some soondae (pig’s blood sausage stuffed with sticky rice) too! Soondae is actually a really popular local street snack.
Insider tip: Be sure to bundle up to stay warm. Despite having an overhead roof, Gwangjang market is nevertheless poorly insulated during winter and doorways are often widely open. It wouldn’t be unusual to see local salarymen eating with their hats and gloves on.
How to get there: Take subway line 1 to Jongno 5(o)-ga Station and take exit 11. Walk towards Jongno 4-ga Rotary, going around the outside of Gwangjang Market, and enter the market through the second west gate (광장시장 서2문). You should see a sign for Mayak Gimbap Alley.
MYEONGDONG NIGHT MARKET
Why go: This is probably the most popular markets amongst tourists. You may have already heard of it; nevertheless, it’s one we can’t NOT talk about and it sure won’t disappoint. Myeongdong is home to two anchor department stores — Lotte and Shinsegae. You can find many stores in this area selling clothes, cosmetic line-ups, accessories and food too, of course. If you’re looking for a variety of cosmetic products or brands, this is your go-to place; to name a few, there are The Face Shop, Innisfree, Too Cool for School, Iope Cushion Store, Etude House, 3 Concept Eyes, Sulwhasoo and many more.
Of course we can’t miss out on the vast array of food at Myeongdong too. Here, beginning around 5pm, you can find all sorts of Korean street food along the street, like the usual tteokbokki (glutinous Korean rice cakes in spicy red sauce), bindaetteok (crispy deep-fried mung bean pancakes with vinegary dipping sauce), gimbap (seaweed rice roll with sesame oil), patjuk (red bean porridge), or yukhoe (raw ground beef seasoned with sauces). Though you can also find quite a number of good dak-galbi (spicy stir-fried marinated chicken with sweet potatoes and vegetables) restaurants here in Myeongdong.
Insider tip: The stalls here close earlier at around 10pm, unlike other markets in Seoul. It also opens only around 11am or 12pm, though not all stalls will be open. However, that should not stop you from exploring it as there are various shops and stores around too apart from the night market.
How to get there: You can get to the heart of Myeongdong by taking the subway line 4 to Myeongdong Station, then take exit 6. You can also take subway line number 2 and get off at Euljiro 1-ga Station, then take exit 5 and keep walking until you see the entrance to Myeongdong on your left.
Why go: This shopping district, filled with 30,000 stores that are split into wholesale and retail sections, is the perfect shopping paradise for aspiring fashion designers, trendsetting teens and even bargain-pro ahjummas (Korean middle-aged or older women). This district’s most popular shopping malls include the Dongdaemun Shopping Complex, Pyeonghwa Fashion Town, and Designer Club, all of which are conveniently located within walking distance from each other. You can easily get discounted jeans, good quality shoes and leather goods, clothes, jackets, souvenirs and various other things. Most of these shops are open from 10am to 5am the next day. If you’re getting hungry, you can head over to Meoka Golmok (Let’s Eat Alley) and devour the finger-licking tasty mandus (Korean fried dumplings), or at dak hanmari (whole chicken) restaurants.
Insider tip: We’d say, go to Dongdaemun market on a Friday or Saturday night! You get to potentially enjoy late-night fashion shows and K-pop dance performances if you’re lucky. Don’t forget to try to bargain when shopping at these stores too, though it might be best for you to smile as widely as you can while you’re at that.
How to get there: Take subway line 2 to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park station, and take exit 14. You will see a line of enormous fashion malls on your left. You can also take subway line 1 or 4 to Dongdaemun Station, and take exit 9. Walk for about 2-3 minutes and you’ll arrive at Dongdaemun market area.
What are some of your favourite markets in Seoul? Let us know in the comment section below!
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