What You Should Eat At Gwangjang Traditional Market
Gwangjang Market (광장시장) is not an unpopular market to visit, though it’s still relatively difficult if you can’t speak any Korean.
Gwangjang Market is Korea’s first daily market and is one of the largest traditional markets in the country.
The market was opened in 1905. At the time, markets weren’t permanent but were temporary, opening for just a few days here and there. Gwangjang Market was the first to be permanently established and was opened every day. The market, like many downtown is known for one kind of product, and that is the fabric it sells. From fabric for curtains, pants and suits to Hanboks, bedding and linen, it’s all in Gwangjang Market. The small alleyways are strewn with stores where one can be measured to have a suit made or head upstairs to get a Hanbok. The market is known for having quality goods at inexpensive prices. From buttons to thread and zippers to bobbins, it’s all there. There’s also a substantial vintage market upstairs drawing crowds of young people due to the cheap cost but great items available. While this market is famous for it’s fabrics and clothing goods, it has become just as popular for the food sold downstairs. With so many workers and vendors in the market, it stands to reason they needed something to eat throughout the day so food vendors popped up and now they’re a big draw for the tourists and locals in the area.
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While the vendors welcome everyone, and they do so loudly as they usher you to take a seat, they speak very little English. They do however speak a bit more Mandarin and Japanese so if you’ve got those under your belt, have some fun. The food is delicious though and is one of my top five places I suggest to family and friends who are stopping through for just a short time. If you want to head there and want to know what to try, look below for more information on the dishes that stand out.
The vendors in the market sell not only dishes ready to be eaten, but they also have fresh produce, seafood and Korean side dishes that patrons can purchase to take home with them. These days, due to the influx in tourists to the area, the vendors selling side dishes also provide toothpicks so that you can sample some of the side dishes they sell. Try the little stir-friend crabs, they’re a personal favorite. You just stick the whole thing in your mouth and chew away. Yum!
The food inside is everything from kimchi stuffed dumplings that may be a bit spicy for some or tofu and pork stuffed dumplings (pictured above), sundae (순대) or pig’s intestines to delicious bimbimbap (비빔밥) or a variety of vegetables on a bed of rice with red pepper sauce (veggies for the bimbimbap pictured below).
There is also mul-naengmyeon (물냉면) or cold noodle broth soup, pictured below. Yes, there’s actually ice cubes in the soup! The buckwheat noodles are topped with radish, cucumbers and a hard-boiled egg. There is some wasabi on the side as well as the red-pepper paste in the bowl. When first received, you should take your chop sticks place them in the center of the noodles and spread them out, this way and that sort of kneading everything around and inside in order to mix thoroughly and then taste. Also, don’t be surprised if vendors cut your noodles up with a pair of scissors because buckwheat noodles can be a bit chewy, so you either slurp them all up in one go, or get them cut up a bit. The vendors that serve up this dish also serve up kalguksu or a hand-made noodle soup dish that is tasty as well, though the mul-naengmyeon is really a standout.
For something quite adventurous, try the Korean style chicken feet or the pig’s feet. The pig’s intestines really aren’t all that scary but they are definitely different. Pigs feet, or jokbal (족발), boils away for hours in a stock made of water, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, rice wine, and maybe a secret ingredient depending on where it’s from, before it’s sliced up and served to those eaters looking for something meaty, fatty and extremely mouth watering. Chicken feet, or dalkbal (닭발), is made with a spicy red pepper sauce and if you’re lucky they have already been de-boned. All of the places in Gwangjang Market serve them de-boned luckily. The skin and tendons that make up the feet make the bite a bit crunchy while at the same time squishy. If you don’t like strange consistencies in your mouth, this probably isn’t the dish for you. Chicken feet wouldn’t be the main dish of a meal but would be a dish eaten while drinking alcohol, often makkoli or rice wine. It’d be like eating spicy chicken wings in the States. The spicy sauce on the feet makes them perfect for that bite between drinks with friends. For something less scary but still mighty appetizing and a common soup in Korea, try the janchiguksu. Janchiguksu (잔치국수) is a meal often eaten in Korean homes while also common at wedding buffets and other major events. It’s a warm and light soup that fills you up without weighing you down. It is one of my all time favorites that I could eat anytime. It’s a pretty straightforward noodle soup with fish broth and some vegetables to top it off. The market can be a little bit difficult to navigate because there are a couple main thoroughfares but then every nook and cranny and tiny alley is also filled with restaurants and vendors too. Down one tiny walkway that branches off of the larger market pathway is a collection of restaurants serving up yuk-hoe (육회) or steak tartare. Yuk means meat and hoe means sashimi. A tender cut of beef is thinly sliced and often mixed with a marinate of soy sauce, garlic, sugar, sesame oil, salt and pepper. It’s served on a platter with the raw egg on top and some thinly sliced Korean pear. Once on the table one person will mix this all together into a rather sloppy mess, it looks much more pleasant before it’s mixed together, and then diners dig in.
Another dish that is a standout and a real treat is the stuffed squid. The squid is stuffed with a variety of veggies and glass noodles. There is a sweet and spicy red sauce to dip it in and then the hard part is eating it. Ideally the whole piece should be taken in all at once, but they are HUGE! The vendor that sells this is a bit away from the regular vendors down near the vintage clothing section and they only seem to set up in the early evenings and weekends so they may or may not be there when you go.
There is so much more at Gwangjang Market, but this is a good start to what you should definitely try from adventurous dishes to some common staples too. When you head there for a visit, eat UP!
Gwangjang Market (광장시장)
88, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 88 (예지동)
By Subway: go out of Jongno 5-ga Station, exit 7. Walk straight and an entrance will open up on your right. OR Euljiro 4-ga Station, exit 4. Walk straight, cross over the Cheonggyecheon Stream and an entrance will open up on your right.
Hours: Stores: 8:30am ~ 6:00pm; Restaurants: 8:30am ~ 11:00pm
Days: Restaurants and vintage clothing section open every day; Fabric vendors/Hanbok vendors closed Sundays.
Amenities: Parking, restrooms