Having already hit up all the main places such as Hongdae, Myeongdong, Ewha and even Sokcho, my friends and I decided to visit a place with a little more cultural history, Gwangjang market. Gwangjang market is a pretty popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Here, you will be able to find a wide array of traditional food and homeware items. From traditional pastries to textiles and kitchen utensils, you can pretty much find anything you’re searching for here. The nearest station to this market would be Jongno 5-ga station, exit 8. You’ll be able to see a large sign stating ‘Gwangjang market’, at the entrance of the alley and you can pretty much follow some of the locals and walk in alongside them. If you’re interested in seeing what Gwanjang market has to offer, keep on reading!
Gwangjang market is pretty much separated into different sections, an area of food, textiles, and kitchenware. At the food area, you’ll be able to find different types of stores selling a variety of food, some I’ve never even seen before and it can be a little overwhelming. There are many small booths where you’ll be able to sit down and enjoy your meal. Simply point at the dishes you want and the ahjummas running the stall will immediately prepare and serve you the dishes. Some of the dishes available include live octopus, kimbap, glass noodles and fish cake noodle soup which can be seen below.
Live octopus is a Korean cuisine that is seen as a luxury. At a price of 25000 won (~SGD $30), one can buy a live octopus and have to cut up right in front of your eyes. It’s then immediately served on a plate with seaweed and a side of the typical Korean red bean paste sauce. The tentacles are still moving on the plate as the muscles spasm which made us squirm as we tried it. Upon first taste, I felt a tentacle stick slightly to the top of my mouth and I decided instantly that this dish was not for me. Nonetheless, it’s worth a try when at Gwanjang market as it’s not as easy to find it elsewhere and it is a delicacy after all. A couple of Korean locals sitting next to us even offered us some rice wine to match with the octopus and told us it’s a specialty dish that’s great for your health and skin.
This, I’m sure you’ve seen before. In Singapore, we often see larger versions of this and some people simply call them ‘Korean sushi’, though really, kimbap is a more accurate word. The ones sold at Gwangjang market was pretty simple, with just pickles and carrots (I think) wrapped with rice and seaweed and rolled in sesame seeds. I believe these were the original idea of kimbaps, before the fancier versions with egg, crab stick and cucumber came about. In the past, people probably ate more simply and could not afford many ingredients. It’s really a comfort food of sorts and something worth experiencing.
Glass noodle (japchae)
Japchae is a pretty well-known Korean dish. The star of the dish is the sweet potato glass noodles that’s bouncy and chewy, stir fried with vegetables with some kind of sweet sauce. A simple dish like this is pretty healthy and really refreshing. I eat this at home in Singapore too!
Fishcake noodle soup
If you’ve been to Korea, you’d have seen the street-side stalls selling finger food including the famous korean fishcake cooked and served alongside a cup of oden soup. Here at Gwangjang market, they kick it up a notch and serve the fishcake in Oden broth with noodles. It has a clear broth and light taste, definitely not to your palate if you’re big on rich flavours. It wasn’t my personal favourite because I do like more depth to my food, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.
Red bean mochi cake?
This was a wild try for me because I wasn’t sure what exactly I was buying and to be honest I’m still unsure of what it actually is. It has a starchy texture with a lot of flour and wasn’t sweet like I expected but also wasn’t savoury in a way I enjoyed. It tasted like flour and salt made into a dough-like texture before being pan-fried. I wouldn’t recommend trying this but then again there were quite a number of locals eating it. Maybe it just wasn’t for me.
Red bean and pumpkin porridge
This food item was also not to my liking. When I first heard of ‘red bean porridge’, I imagined a smooth, rich and sweet, decadent red bean paste, almost like a Singapore Pulau Hitam that would serve as a nice dessert. Instead, I was met with a salty grainy paste that I did not enjoy. I honestly could not get past the first 3 mouthfuls and my friend pretty much ate the rest for me. I didn’t give the pumpkin one a try for obvious reasons, but the pot was quite a bit emptier than the red bean one which made me think it could be more popular and hence taste better. But I still wouldn’t take a chance.
Gwangjang market was really quite an experience and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I definitely think it’s worth a visit, trying some of the interesting foods you won’t find elsewhere in Korea nowadays as more popular fast foods and ‘Instagram foods’ come about. Do let me know if you pay Gwangjang a market a visit and where else I should visit when in Korea! Hope you enjoyed reading!
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