They say you have not experienced the heart of a place if you don't step into its traditional markets. Seoul has one such market smack in the middle of it and easily accessible from Cheonggyecheon stream. Welcome to Gwangjang Market!
Known to house a variety of goods from fresh produce to coats and textiles, this gem is worth a few hours of exploring. Feel free to try your hand at haggling with your best korean attempts and aegyo faces, it might just work!
Souvenirs aplenty, you may wish to practice some creativity in finding random trinkets and items which make quirky gifts for friends and family back home. Come dressed comfortably, with good shoes as the floor may be wet and uneven. Be prepared to be shoved aside by ahjummas, ahjusshis and even delivery men and women. Don't get too affected, even the locals get shoved aside! :)
When we were there, we were lucky(?) enough to observe a drama filming in process. Unfortunately, we did not recognise the actors and actresses so I'm unable to name-drop here. But it was interesting to see! We did try to place ourselves strategically here and there when they filmed the actress storming through the crowd... so, we may just appear as random extras in an upcoming drama!!! Look for a few non-koreans acting all nonchalant and unaffected by the storming lady. (we had to act unaffected else they might cut that scene no? haha)
On to the eats! Well, be prepared to see pig everything here and there. If you are looking for purely halal foods, I'm sorry to say that is impossible. But, we scoured the alleys and stalls to point out some halal friendly options. Stalls which sell specialised items, which would fill you up in no time :)
Firstly, what to avoid for Muslims. Please avoid stalls with questionable meat items, more often than not they're pork. Look out for black sausages, that's a nope too. These are Sundae (soon-day), blood sausages filled with pig blood and japchae. If you see mandoos (korean dumplings/ potstickers, do avoid these as generally all dumplings contain meat (usually pork) unless they're vegetarian.
Another thing to avoid is the Bindaetteoks, mung bean pancakes. These are the main draw of Gwangjang Market but unfortunately all the bindaetteoks here have minced pork in them. We found this out through vegan blogs where vegetarians have unfortunately had the displeasure of tasting them and spitting them out. We also made it a point to ask the ladies selling them and they confirmed that all the bindaetteoks in the market were not vegetarian. oh. well.
Ok on to good news! On our second trip, we have found a set of stalls which have halal friendly options. Check out the yummy traditional korean toast; egg and vegetable with a sprinkle of sugar(!) in between two slices of butter toasted bread. a rather sinful start to the day! Unlike other toast shops in Seoul, this ahjumma specialises in a simple toast with no meat whatsoever.
Another thing you must try is Mayak Kimbap (aka addictive kimbap) These little vegetarian treats are found everywhere in Gwanagjang Market, however most stalls do sell Sundae and other questionable items. Do look out for the stalls like the lady above (located next to yummy toast ahjumma), which only sells the kimbaps, spicy tteokbokki with fishcakes and fishcakes on sticks. Dip the kimbaps in the mustard and wow... mindblowned that something so simple could be so good.
You may also try the juks (jook) which are thick warm porridge made from a choice of pumpkin (orange coloured), red bean (purple) or mung bean (yellow). The stall is situated in the middle of the market and only specialises in juk.
An interesting form of hotteok is housed in the centre of the market too. This specialised stall, manned by two young men usually has a queue. The hotteoks are made from a kind of grain (healthier?) and has a red bean filling. Just one of this was good enough as a full meal for me. Must be the grains.
If you're looking for a meal, check out the Bibimbap lane. Look out for a vegetarian stall like the one pictured. However, do note that the broth/soup is made from anchovies and kelp. Kimchis usually contain seafood of some kind to aid in fermentation.
Unlike the dolsot bibimbaps we are used to in Singapore, these are literally fresh vegetables without egg and had less gochujang. You may request for more from the ahjumma who would be more than happy to provide you with an extra dallop of gochujang paste. :) (We felt crazy healthy after the meal)
So who says a trip to a traditional market would make you go hungry? Sorry for the long post but hey, now you know what to eat and what to avoid at the must-visit Gwangjang Market. Happy exploring!
*As a heads up and disclaimer, shops change and the food serve may vary/get updated. So do keep a lookout for questionable meats/ items which may be introduced in the shops and avoid them/ look for alternative shops around... Looking and exploring is part of the fun!
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Drop us a line and credit "kayos kronicles @ www.kayoskookies.com"
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