I met up with a Korean friend for coffee in Samcheongdong yesterday, and she suggested that we grab a snack at Seoul’s Gwangjang Market which was nearby.
If you follow my blog and my adventures in Korea, you will know that I am a huge foodie and have a particular affection for discovering street foods so of course I agreed immediately, and we hopped in a cab to Gwangjang.
From Ansan to Jeonju, and all the way down to to Busan, I’ve visited a bunch of food markets in Korea, so I’ll admit that at first I wondered what could be so different about this one; however Gwangjang Market definitely didn’t disappoint. This is the oldest food market in Seoul, still going strong since it first opened all the way back in 1905.
Open 24/7, the stalls at Gwangjang offer a lot of traditional Korean delicacies and the nice thing about this market is, although it is busy, a lot of the stalls are set up like little outdoor restaurants so you don’t have to awkwardly stand around eating your food whilst you are getting shoved left, right and centre like in most food markets, and instead, you can take a seat by the food station, watch your meal being prepared and cooked before you, then sit and wash it down with a nice glass of 소주 soju. There’s a seemingly infinite number of food options available at Gwangjang Market, but here are some of the highlights.
A lot of the Vendors were selling Bindaetteok or “mung bean pancake” which I think is perhaps my new favorite snack! Made with an egg, mung beans, cabbage kimchi and sesame oil, it was super tasty. The server also gave me a little pot of raw onions fermented in soy sauce and vinegar which made a delicious accompaniment. The pancake was popular hundreds of years ago, and was literally known as “poor person’s pancake” as the poor ate these, and the rich ate meat. For 4,000 Won (around £2.50), you really can’t go wrong!
Sannakji (Live Octopus)
Live octopus, or “Sannakji” is another delicacy here in South Korea, present at many of the stalls at Gwangjang Market. You can either eat a whole live baby octopus, or a small octopus that has been cut into pieces whilst alive (the tentacles are usually still squirming on the plate). The octopus is seasoned with sesame and sesame oil. What do you think?
Mandu Korean Dumplings
“Mandu” are Korean dumplings and one of my favorite dishes in Korea. You can find mandu with various different fillings – they usually include ground beef, pork or shrimp. I highly recommend the galbi (Korean marinated beef) mandu – yum! On a separate note, isn’t she the cutest little street vendor you ever did see? Just look at that giggly little face!
Sweet Red Bean Pastries
Chances are, if you’ve spent any amount of time in Korea, you’ve stumbled across red bean snacks already as they are an extremely popular dessert available at many roadside carts, particularly the Bungeoppang form (bitesize pastries in fish shapes). There’s a vendor that regularly sets up shop outside my apartment building and when I hear he’s there, I literally sprint to retrieve my red bean snacks. The sweet bread at Gwangjang market is a little larger, and the dough is filled with red bean paste (adzuki bean) and fried. Expect to pay between 1,000 to 2,000 Won for one of these (between 50p and £1)
The Sea Penis
Here is something that I don’t ever think I’ll be brave enough to try. Affectionately nicknamed as “the sea penis”, the “urechis unicinctus” marine worm’s resemblance to male genitalia is uncanny. Just look at the length and girth on some of these! The Vendor prepares these by cutting off the bottom of the sea penis, and scraping out its innards so you are essentially just eating the outer skin. The creature is then still alive (how?!) and you can dip it into an array of sauces before eating it live and raw.
Soondae – Korean Blood Sausage
Stuffed into an intestinal casing, Soondae is made by mixing pork blood with noodles, glutinous rice, and a mixture of soybean paste, chili, and spices. The iron taste of blood was quite prominent, and the texture of the sausage reminded me a little of Japanese “mochi”, a kind of chewy and gelatinous cake. It definitely wasn’t for me, but maybe if you’re a fan of black pudding, or you’re a traveling vampire it could be your cup of tea.
Of course, this is just a small selection of some of the foods on offer at Gwangjang market. You can also find many Korean favorites here like tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), jeon (Korean pancakes) and Korean fried chicken.
The second floor of the market is home to many fabric vendors selling textiles and soft furnishings which was unfortunately closed during my visit due to Seollal (lunar New Year).
To get to Gwangjang Market, take subway line 1 to Jogno 5-ga station and leave at exit 7.
Have you ever been to Gwangjang Market? What are your favorite places to try street food in Seoul?