Jongno 3(sam)-ga, Seoul ranked third in “The 49 coolest neighbourhoods in the world” for 2021, selected by the English travel magazine Time Out. What charms does this place, which draws the world’s attention and attracts an entire generation, hold? Jongno is the heart of Seoul, where Korea’s past and present, seniors and juniors, and retro and refined styles coexist. Today, we’d like to explore the charming area of Jongno 3(sam)-ga!
Located in Yeji-dong, Jongno-gu, Gwangjang Market demonstrates the energetic daily lifestyle of Koreans. As Korea’s first permanent market with about 100 years of tradition, it houses numerous textile wholesalers and retailers of hanbok (traditional Korean clothes) material, curtains, and bedding. It has recently become more famous for its unique food street serving small gimbap, mung bean pancakes, and beef tartare. The savory aroma of food draws passersby into the market.
When entering Gwangjang Market, you will easily find beef tartare restaurants. We highly recommend trying the “chopped live octopus and beef tartare” dish, a combination of beef tartare and finely chopped live octopus. This delicacy is characterized by the savory taste of egg yolk mingling with the soft beef tartare and chewy octopus. The dish’s Korean name, nakji tangtangi, originates from the sound of chopping (tangtang) octopus (nakji) with a knife.
Kkoma gimbap, highlighted in Time Out, is also known as mayak gimbap, literally meaning “drug gimbap,” because once you taste these addictive rolls with the mustard dipping sauce, you’ll never want to stop eating them. In addition, japchae, a combination of various vegetables, meat, and glass noodles, is a festive dish usually eaten on special occasions because of its complex and time-consuming cooking process. However, this delicious dish is readily available in Gwangjang Market for a reasonable price.
We also recommend mung bean pancakes (bindaetteok) and griddlecake with sugar filling (hotteok). While the griddle cake filled with sugar and nuts is a sweet dessert-like snack, the mung bean pancake, made with mung bean dough, green bean sprouts, and pork, is perfect for hungry tourists and best enjoyed with drinks. The latter has a long tradition and is the most popular food at Gwangjang Market.
Once you’ve appeased your hunger in Gwangjang Market, let’s discover more of Jongno’s hidden charms while digesting another delicacy! Seosulla-gil, the western stone wall road surrounding Jongmyo Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a beautiful walking spot with a cozy and peaceful atmosphere. Behind the stone wall, a large old tree’s verdant branches offer a shady resting spot in the summer and become tinged with autumn colors in the fall. While walking along the 800-meter-long road and observing the stunning scenery, you will pass by traditional crafts workshops, jewelry multishops, cafés, pubs, and other interesting shops where you can stop and rest at your leisure.
Do you know that the citizen identification tags and ornamental hairpins that appeared in Netflix’s popular K-zombie series “Kingdom (2019)” were made in a traditional handicraft workshop in Seosulla-gil? Also known as a K-crafts street, Seosulla-gil is home to many similar shops. We’d like to introduce you to Space 42, where you’ll find diverse jewelry crafts. This cultural complex offers various products from rising Korean jewelry designers. Its first floor has a jewelry multishop, while the second floor houses a lounge and experience booth where visitors can try their hand at making jewelry.
If you want to take a break from walking around Seosulla-gil, we advise you to visit Café Sasa for a delicious coffee or Seoul Gypsy for an alcoholic drink. Café Sasa, designed like a hanok, was featured in Time Out for its savory mugwort latte. In addition, the Seoul Gypsy, a remodeled 1950s hanok decorated in a unique pub style, boasts experimental microbrews and exotic dishes, including Vietnamese chicken and Thai salad.
The Seosulla-gil walking tour’s last course lets you discover the beauty of Korean traditions. Korea Saekdong Museum, featuring a traditional hanok-style and modern interior, displays Korea’s old clothing culture. The Korean word saekdong means “clothes with multicolored stripes.” The museum exhibits traditional wedding clothes and children’s clothes for celebrating their first anniversaries made of these colorful, striped clothes. In addition, you can purchase various modern accessories, such as mugs and pouches, made with the colorful stripe design in the museum shop.
Jongno is home to numerous food streets, ranging from old restaurants in Meat Alley and Pocha Street to Ikseon-dong Café Street, which incited Korea’s newtro craze. Let’s explore these gourmand alleys that attract people of all ages, from seniors to hipsters!
Many long-standing pork restaurants serving grilled pork belly and pork skirt are situated along Meat Alley, next to Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station, Exit 6. These old restaurants each have their specialties, and Tongdwaeji Jip, known for its huge cauldron lid–grilled pork belly, is no exception. Grilled pork belly, considered Korean soul food, has become a popular dish among foreigners and is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. You can enjoy pork belly and kimchi grilled over a hot cauldron lid and wrap them in lettuce or perilla leaf. If you want to properly appreciate trendy Korean food culture, we recommend that you end your meal with fried rice made with kimchi and cheese.
Ikseon-dong Café Street is a popular place among the youth to find exciting desserts. The hanok café “Cheong Su Dang” is known for its delicious desserts, such as soufflé castella, which is made upon order, black sesame cake, and pour-over coffee made from millstone-ground coffee. This café is also a famous photo spot thanks to its interior design. Its entrance is embellished with a bamboo lamp and stepping-stones, emphasizing Asian beauty, while its nature-friendly interior is decorated with moss and rocks.
If you walk toward Nagwon Arcade from Exit 3 of Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station on Subway Line 5, you will find food stalls lining the roadside. In Pocha Street, you can try Koreans’ favorite snacks, such as mussel soup, grilled chicken feet, grilled sea eel, and green onion pancakes, served with alcoholic drinks on a street table. Along with Gogi Alley, Pocha Street also came highly recommended in Time Out. If you want to experience Korean night culture, this is the perfect place to end your Jongno travels!
* This column was last updated in November 2021, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check the details before visiting.