I love the comfort of eating at a restaurant or cafe, but street food is honestly what it’s all about. The sanitary standards may not be up to par, but honestly, sometimes I find the best food out in the streets. After a day of shopping, we locked our goodies in the lockers at the metro stations (best invention), and off we went to Gwangjang Market. This market began in 1905 and has over 100 years of history! It’s one of Korea’s largest markets and is the oldest! You may have heard of Namdaemun and Dondgdaemun Market, which are famous for their wholesale and cheap prices, but many people aren’t aware of this hidden gem – Gwangjang Market! During the day, there are shops that sell everything from silks, clothing to kitchenware. However, by night, the food scene is the what’s bustling here! The front section is filled with packaged food and I was surprised to see many international items, including American chocolate and candy.
As you walk in, it becomes many of the food stalls. A super simple set up with benches in front of the cooking area, you are literally sitting shoulder to shoulder here. You’ll find everyone eating here, from office people to tourists like myself.
Apparently, there is a Jeon Alley, which I believe we hit. Jeon is basically any ingredient that is battered and pan fried in oil. It’s sort like a pancake dish. These are mostly vegetable jeons.
Here, you’ll find everything from spicy race cake (tteokbokki), potato glass noodle (japchae), to blood sausages (sundae). The stalls are all operated by these older aged ladies or aunties (ajummas). They can be pretty fierce and demanding, but at the end of the day, they just want to be efficient and get the food to you.
We ended up settling here, since we saw there was space to sit down! To be honest, most of the stalls serve the same things, so it didn’t seem any different.
First, we got the famous Gimbap! Rice filled with simple vegetables and wrapped with seaweed. Our gimbaps were rather simple, with only pickled radish and carrots inside. It was brushed with sesame oil and sprinkled with white sesame. It came with a dipping sauce too, which wasn’t exactly soy sauce. I’m not sure what it was, but these gimbaps were super addicting with the sauce! I was sitting literally on the edge of the bench, almost falling off, but it was well worth it! There was a granny in front of me who was rolling these gimbaps, and she was super friendly even though she couldn’t speak any English. She ended up giving me a free roll that she had just wrapped! Super cute! I hear there is a Gimbap Alley nearby too….
If you walk around the market, you will see this huge pancakes being sizzled in guzzling oil. I was determined to try them, and later learned that they were called Bindaetteok. They are mung bean pancakes which are fried in oil. The mung beans are first soaked and then turned into a batter by grinding them in between millstones. Pretty cool! Apparently, this market is the place to get the traditional mung bean pancakes. I have to say that they are quite oily, but at the same time, really delicious! Dip it into the dipping sauce which is made of rice vinegar, soy sauce and slices of onion, and you will be super addicted. These pancakes are also fairly cheap, but will get you very full. Crispy on the outside, and gooey inside!
We saw a bunch of colourful deep fried goodies in front of us, so we asked the diner next to us what they were since he knew a bit of English. Funny enough, he said he didn’t really know. He just knew they were deep fried and really delicious and couldn’t be bothered to know exactly what he was eating! Anyways, we got an order of it, and it came as an assortment. After some research, I learned that they were called Yachae Twigim. They’re basically deep fried vegetables. A lot of the ones we had were actually something similar to bean curd though. It had a chewy texture which was interesting but good! There was also something similar to deep fried kimchi, chives and imitation crab, zucchini, and peppers. Some were more spicy than the others, but I think it’s worth trying if you have others to share with. Probably something you can’t get in restaurants!
That ended our meal at that stall, but walking around for a bit more, we decided to sit down at another. It’s like food stall hopping here! Ps. Look at that huge long black thing… It’s the Sundae, or Korean blood sausage… Yup, I’ve had it in Vancouver, but I wasn’t looking forward to having it again. Not my cup of tea!
At this stall, we went for the Tteokbokki, also known as the spicy rice cake. These were rather fat pieces, but still very soft! I found this sauce to be quite spicy compared to the other ones I’ve had in Seoul. I love how they wrap their plates with plastic bags. So smart. Less cleaning for sure, and it’s also a great way to pack up your rice cakes in case you can’t finish.
Eomukguk (Fish Cake Soup)
Next, we had the Eomukguk, which is essentially fish cake soup. Mmmm, I absolutely love this and could eat this every day! Apparently, people love to eat this with the spicy rice cake, since the broth is super warming after having the spicy rice cakes! The soup is made from anchovy stock and is extremely flavourful. I couldn’t help but finish all the stock! It also had seaweed in it which helped bring the seafood flavour. The fish cakes are soft and chewy. A must!
Last but not least, we had Japchae. Japchae is made from sweet potato noodles and is stir fried. It’s usually mixed with vegetables and other ingredients like beef. It’s stir fried with sesame oil and often topped with more sesame, so it’s very pungent in that flavour. Our japchae did not have any meat in it, nor any vegetables other than green onions. But holy, these were probably the best japchae I’ve had! The noodles were very thing and bouncy and were served lukewarm. So simple, but so delicious!
A must see if you like food and want to experience some traditional street food! However, be warned that when you visit in the summer, you will be drenched in street. When my hair is up, this means serious business. We were all sweaty by the end of our meal, but it was well worth it! Be sure to check out the Yukhoe Alley as well, which is a few alleys down. It has several restaurant serving up Yukhoe, the famous Korean steak tartare. Get off Jongno-5 and exit #9, and you will find Gwangjang Market!