Seoul Food: Markets & Munchies (2nd in a Series)

Seoul Food Series:
1st part: Seoul Food: The Neighborhoods
2nd part: Seoul Food: Markets & Munchies
last part: Seoul Food: My Favorite Foods

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Myeong-dong is Seoul’s best known shopping town, ground zero for those painfully hip K-pop cosmetics and where the “big three” department stores are located. That would be Hyundai, and as shown above, Lotte, and Shinsegae. I especially like Shinsegae’s stunning food emporium at the basement that reminds me of Tokyo’s depachikas. The sky garden on the 11th floor is wonderful for catching a breath and it’s connected to a food court, too.

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Outside in the Myeong-dong Shopping District, it’s mayhem and glorious madness. Bodies bump and brush mine in the bitterly cold air as aromas familiar and foreign float around me. Sundry streetside sustenance beckon with their steamy arms, and if I get close enough, I get a welcome food facial in return.

Sensory overload is inevitable. But oh, how deliciously so! Come and take a walk with me.

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I’m unsure what these are above but they’re exceedingly popular, as is anything on a stick. So enticing, it’ll make you look, as the couple below shows.

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Pomegranate juice. The vendor gives me some mixed with Chilsing, the local Sprite. So refreshingly good!

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‘Tis the season for strawberries, but they’re not as sweet as the ones I enjoy in Osaka.

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Ah, open space! Time to take a breath. And shop for eyeliner!

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Namdaemun Market
Pulsing in the city’s center, Namdaemun Market is the largest traditional market in Korea. Most products are offered wholesale and prices are very low. There are thousands of shops scattered across 30+ buildings and a seemingly infinite sprawl of street-vendor stalls.

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It’s in Korea that my love for red bean teeters over into obsession. Red bean paste is smeared into a glutinous rice pancake (behind on griddle) – or – in forefront, embraced in a fritter. Can’t go wrong either way.

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More of the same and absolutely stomach-warming to eat in this weather.

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At Namdaemun Market, there are little alleys you can duck into for a full meal.

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Back outside, the eating atmosphere is more casual. The same things are sold at every cart, a mishmash of seafood, meat, and noodles. A menu is given and there are low tables and stools for eating.

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Stopping for a snack. Pajeon (green onion pancake) and gimbap, seaweed rice rolls with a variety of fillings. It doesn’t look like much but then again, it doesn’t cost much and it’s filling.

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Gwangjang Market
First opened in 1905, and Korea’s first daily market, this is the market I suggest you go to if you travel to eat like I do. The market itself is known for its fabrics but towards dusk, the place transforms into a clanking cornucopia of comestibles. They say the best time to come here to get the full experience is in the evening ‘til midnight but don’t fret if you can’t. I’m here at 4pm and I don’t feel like it’s lacking at all.

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There’s plenty to see…

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and buy…

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… and be bowled over by.

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Various seafood fermenting in chili paste. It’s quite the “vaporous” experience, if you catch my drift.

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I don’t know what this is but it looks like brains. There are several restaurants serving this, and they’re all packed with people enjoying this delicacy.

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In Seoul’s largest food alley teeming with over 200 stalls, there are some specialties to try.
Plate-large and crunchy nokdu bindaetteok (mung-bean pancake).

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Koreans enjoy a good beef tartare. Meat is sliced into ribbons, seasoned with sesame oil, and plated in concentric circles broken only by the golden globe of a raw egg yolk. Tantalizing. A plate is usually shared and the diners dip their portion of meat into the raw egg.

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The majority of the market’s floor space is taken over by food stalls, all selling the same items. There’s pigs’ feet and face, and believe it or not, something called sundae. These are sausages made from coagulated pig’s blood, barley, and glass noodles, among other things (lower right in photo). Only for the courageous, I say. In the second pot on the left in the photo above are my favorite street food, tteokbokki, rice cakes tumbling in a red pepper paste. The tteokbokki ranges from chewy to hard depending on the vendor, and I assume, how long the cakes have been simmering there.

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Eating is such camaraderie. All the pungent food is washed down with those ubiquitous green bottles of soju, Korea’s most famous drink; it’s rice wine with a fearsome kick. I take a swig and swear I can feel myself getting drunk already. Rough stuff.

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To bring myself down to earth, I enjoy cupfuls of danpatjuk, sweet red bean porridge, and beside it, sweet pumpkin porridge. There are only two stalls selling this but everyone seems to go to this lady. The porridge centers me with its heat and the few rice balls provide playful texture. I move myself over to a corner, sipping and slowly savoring as I take in the market with my mind.

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