|A Visit to Seoul's Traditional Markets|
Though modern markets offer the advantage of fast, convenient shopping, they are all similar and rarely offer any character. But traditional markets are different. No sooner had seller lays out items in an empty place is a new stall born. Warm greetings are exchanged as people pass by. People can negotiate prices or get more for their money by asking politely. Traditional markets are filled with the warmth of the people and offer a glimpse into Korean daily life. If you want to see a true Korean scene and find traditional food in downtown Seoul, visit one of the following traditional markets.
Located in Incheon, Sinpo Market(신포시장) is the first daily market in Korea. It has more than 110 years of history and tradition. The market is full of fish, vegetables, meat, and other ingredients, as well as delicious and low-priced food. Its location near the sea makes it a destination for fresh fish, dried fish, and other seafood. In one corner of the market, you will sometimes spot sellers at work scaling and gutting fish caught off the coast of Incheon.
In the afternoon, you will see a long line of people near the entrance to the market. These people are lined up for dak-gangjeong (fried chicken pieces coated in a sweet and sour sauce) sold at Sinpo Dak-gangjeong. Their dak-gangjeong is so popular that the store sells on average 500 chickens a day. The chicken is fried twice, and then coated with a sauce made of red chili oil, red pepper, and syrup for a spicy and sweet taste. It has a very crispy texture. (Large-size for 3-4 persons: 15,000 won)
In the market, street foods can be found in clustered areas, so visitors can enjoy a wide variety for about 1,000 won per dish. There are many snack shops offering quick meals, and it is fun to pick colorful dumplings and hot steamed bread stacked in front of the stores. Also popular in Sinpo Market is the hatba (fried fish cake made of ground seafood and vegetables), gonggalppang (crispy, hollow bread), and bindaetteok (fritter made of ground mung beans, meat, and vegetables).
About 20 minutes from the market is China Town. There are many Chinese restaurants, moon cake stores, and souvenir shops to browse around. The Freedom Park next to China Town has nice walking trails and offers a great view of the sea.
The Noryangjin Fisheries Market(노량진 수산시장) is a wholesale fish market that has been around for 80 years. It is connected with Noryangjin Station on Subway Line 1 by an overhead walkway. Once inside, visitors will be astounded by the endless stretch of fish stalls under scarlet lights. The market has more than 800 open stalls, boasting the largest size in Korea. A variety of fish is sold, including live flounder and red sea-bream to be eaten raw, as well as mackerel, saury, and hairtail for grilling. There are also squid, king crabs, clams, shrimp, and countless other marine creatures. Processed seafood can be found in one corner of the market, including salted fish (such as preserved fish like squid, and salted and seasoned shrimp), dried fish, and sushi. For fresh raw fish, visit a store with watertanks and purchase a fish. The raw fish is cut into slices on the spot. Then, bring the fish to a Chojangjip (literally, a restaurant selling fish sauce). For just 2,000-3,000 won per person, you can eat the fish with sauce and vegetables. The market is vibrant and always full of energy. Here, you will find buyers and sellers negotiating prices or people just looking around. If you are new to Korea, this is a place to experience the unique daily lives of the Korean people.
If, after sightseeing in downtown Seoul, you are hit by a sudden hunger, visit the Gwangjang Market(광장시장). This is a place where Seoul citizens meet up with close acquaintances for bindaetteok (fritter of ground mung beans, meat, and bean sprouts) and makgeolli rice wine. It is a large-scale market where visitors can feel the traditional Korean ambiance.
The market deals with a variety of items, ranging from clothes, fabric, and bedding to red ginseng, vegetables, and seafood. As such, it is fun for visitors to just walk around and browse. For clothes, you will find womenswear and menswear in modern styles as well as traditional hanbok costumes of different colors and designs. You may also find stores selling traditional wedding gifts. These are called pyebaek stores (pyebaek collectively refers to the food sent by the bride to the groom’s parents before the wedding). The pyebaek box contains traditional food like hangwa traditional cookies, dried meat, and jujube. You might also see people at work making the food inside the stores.
But the bestselling item in Gwangjang Market is the food. In the center of the market, there are food stalls selling bindaetteok and sundae (Korean black pudding with glass noodles, meat, tofu, and vegetables stuffed inside a casing of pig intestine), jokbal (braised pork trotters), teokbokki (rice cakes smothered in a spicy red chili sauce), gimbap (Korean rice rolls), and janchi-guksu (thin noodles served in hot anchovy-based broth). In the evening, yellow lights brighten the market, which is bustling with people enjoying mung bean fritters with makgeolli.