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Seoul Searching | A Gastronomic Adventure at Gwangjang Market.

Much as I love shopping at malls and department stores in Korea, and enjoy the hip and trendy vibe of the shopping streets in Hongdae, Kondae, and Sinsadong, I also love going to the traditional markets in Seoul. There's a certain charm to these traditional markets that make me want to visit them whenever I'm in the country - which is exactly what I did during my last visit to Korea.
Gwangjang Market.
Together with my friend Mel, who was also in Seoul for the weekend, we went on a 'very tita' date, starting with a tour of the Gwangjang Market. Located in the historical Jongno district in downtown Seoul, Gwangjang Market is the first permanent market in Korea and one of the oldest traditional markets in the country's capital. It was established in 1905 and spans a little over 10 acres with more than 5000 stalls selling a variety of items - fabric, clothing, souvenir items, fresh produce, and of course, food.
Stalls at the center of Gwangjang Market.
It was the food, mostly, that made me want to come here, and you gotta blame Running Man for that. If you've been following this blog for quite awhile and have been reading my Seoul Searching posts, then you probably know that most of the places that I've been to in Korea are either K-drama filming locations or have been featured in the world-famous variety show, Running Man.
This stall was featured on Running Man. :)
Gwangjang Market captured my attention after watching episode 186 of Running Man, wherein the cast members happily stuffed their faces with food as part of the challenge. And true enough, this place is a haven for foodies with stalls upon stalls of Korean street food cooked and prepared right before your eyes.
And that's the ahjumma who operates this stall.
The best way to enjoy Gwangjang Market is to come on an empty stomach. That way, you can try a variety of dishes and eat 'til you're full. If you're a light eater, I suggest you bring a friend (or a loved one) along because hey, good food is meant to be shared. :)
Just another busy day at Gwangjang Market.
Mel and I ordered a serving of jeon (Korean vegetable pancake) for sharing, and the taste was absolutely unforgettable. It was extra crispy on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside. It came with a dipping sauce made with soy sauce, vinegar, and freshly-cut onions, which elevated the flavor of this humble yet extremely yummy dish.
Vegetable pancake, 4000 won.
The ahjumma who owns the stall offered us makgeolli, saying that jeon is best paired with their traditional rice wine. But since we are very 'wholesome titas' (lol), we politely declined and instead bought fruit smoothies at a different stall.
Fresh fruit, ready to be blended.
Another must-try dish at Gwangjang Market is the mayak gimbap which literally translates into 'narcotic rice rolls'. Narcotic in the sense that this food is super addictive! These rice rolls are made with pickled vegetables, rolled on a bed of rice and dried seaweed (gim). They are then brushed with sesame oil and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, which I reckon is where the addicting taste comes from.
Mayak Gimbap, 1000 won per roll.
If you're a bit more adventurous with food, perhaps you should try the soondae - blood sausage made with pig intestines mixed with sweet potato vermicelli noodles and sticky rice. I didn't try this, but Mel has had a taste of it on her previous Korea trip and she said it was good. Surprisingly, we saw a lot of foreign tourists ordering this at the nearby stall and seemed to be satisfied with it.
Soondae, anyone?
Other interesting food options at the Gwangjang Market are sannakji (live octopus), yukhoe (raw beef tartare), and the sea penis, a type of marine spoon worm, which is usually eaten raw and dipped in an array of spices. Sounds nasty, I know.
A huge basin of sea penis.
If banchan (side dishes) are more to your liking, you'll also find plenty of them in this bustling market. I'm not familiar with all of them, but I do know there are marinated crabs and spiced pork and kimchi in this spread of food.
Lots of side dishes to choose from!
Marinated crabs.
An assortment of kimchi.
Fruits, nuts, beans, and dried fish are also a common sight at the Gwangjang Market. Some stores also sell yakgwa (Korean cookies) which come in lovely gift boxes. They make nice presents for friends and family back home.
Yakgwa sold in boxed sets. 
Speaking of presents, Gwangjang Market is also famous for its hanbok shops, housed mostly on the second floor. Here, you can buy ready-to-wear hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) or have them tailored to your liking. Fabrics, bed sheets, jewelries and accessories, as well as various souvenir items can also be found on the second floor.
Hanbok shops on the second floor.
If you want to experience authentic Korean street food and culture under one roof, then Gwangjang Market is the place to be. Most of the stores operate on a daily basis from 8:30 am to 6 pm. Some restaurants are open until 11 pm, while some stores are closed on Sundays. 

To get to Gwangjang Market, take the subway to Jongno 5-ga Station Exit 8 or Euljiro 4-ga Station Exit 4.
You can also ride the Green Bus numbered 111, 2014, 2112, or 7212 and alight at the Jongno 5-ga bus stop.

13 replies:

GiGi Eats said...

YES!! I travel for food so that's EXACTLY what I would be doing in Korea too! ;)

Unknown said...

My first stop would be at those cookies! haha I am a sucker for desserts so I'd probably eat the whole box.

Anonymous said...

The market was opened in 1905 and is still there? That's amazing! Sounds like a really cool place to visit and shop.

Unknown said...

I love these pictures, brings an insight into Korea.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. Sounds like a wonderful adventure. Would love to taste some of that food!

Elizabeth O said...

It looks like you had a really great time with your friend. The fresh fruit ready to blend look lovely and the market looks really great too

Megan said...

This food all looks soooo good and really flavorful! Thank you for sharing your adventures –– I'll take note of this in case I ever go to Seoul :)

Eileen said...

Wow , what an amazing selection of food! I love visiting markets!

Lasha said...

Oh how looks like you had a blast. This is definitely a place worth visiting.

Carol Cassara said...

It would be nice to go here especially if it's your first time in Korea. It's a great way to have a taste of the local food! Everything looks SO good as well.

Tayler Morrell said...

I would love to go to Seoul. I would love to go on any gastro-tour, honestly.

Geraline Batarra said...

Korea is one of the beautiful place to visit and exploring it is such a great experience. I will definitely visit Korea someday to taste their local foods and to learn from their cultures.

Esme Sy said...

While I know that I'm steering clear from the other food in this post, those narcotic rice rolls and cakes are one of the best I've eaten! I really don't know why I feel that way but it's something so uncommon outside of Korea and/or Korean restaurants that should actually have other Asian versions of it.