Korean street food. Three words that will always, without a doubt, get my attention. As someone who's constantly hungry, the delicious options at the street food carts in Korea won me over instantly. Imagine my excitement, then, when a friend suggested stopping by Gwangjang Market in Seoul for dinner, telling me it offered basically every kind of street food imaginable...
One of the entrances to the food part of the market.
Gwangjang, (or Kwangjang, as it's sometimes spelled,) is one of Korea's oldest markets, dating back to 1905. Like most markets in the area, it's an excellent spot for shopping, as you can see in this blog that Serg wrote last winter.
However, we approached the market with the express purpose of eating, having spent the day shopping and wandering around the new Dongdaemun Design Plaza. As we entered the market, we were immediately overwhelmed with tons of stalls selling every kind of street food.
The little "restaurants" all look about like this -- a tiny kitchen surrounded by a counter with stools.
One of the main aisles of the market.
We walked the length of one of the aisles, taking in all of our options, before we decided to pick a spot with some empty seats and order. While we were walking, I kept noticing these tiny little rolls of gimbap stacked up. That's when I suddenly remembered that I'd read about this market and this particular kind of gimbap: aka drug gimbap.
Give me all the drug gimbap you have.
Of course, this gimbap doesn't contain any drugs. Its name, mayak gimbap, which means "drug gimbap," refers to the "addictive" quality of these little bite-sized pieces of gimbap and the mustard-soy dipping sauce it's served with. I'd been curious to try it out since reading about it in a blog, and they weren't exaggerating -- it's goooood. Between the sauce and the small bites, it really is easy to just pop one into your mouth after another.
If you're looking for this gimbap in the market, you can keep an eye out for the gimbap rolls themselves, or any sign that reads "마약 김밥" (mayak gimbap), like the white sign behind her head in the photo.
So many foods to try! I wanted to order everything.
While I ate my gimbap, my friends ordered one of Gwangjang Market's other popular eats: bindaetteok, which is a fried pancake made of ground mung beans. Crispy and hot, everyone happily inhaled these.
The sauce for the gimbap = perfect.
After eating as much as we could, we were shooed along by the women running the stall -- a queue had formed behind us of customers who were waiting to sit down and order food. Definitely approach this market with patience, especially if you go around dinner time as it gets quite busy.
On the way out, I decided I needed something sweet, and immediately began scanning signs for hotteok, which is a simple fried pancake filled with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts. As it's cooked, the filling turns into a sweet, syrupy mess and it's absolutely heavenly.
I will find any possible opportunity to eat hotteok.
Like most street food, grabbing a meal at Gwangjang Market is cheap. Really, really cheap. A serving of the mayak gimbap and one hotteok only set me back 3,500 won. That's less than $3.50 USD. The bindaetteok were 4,000 won each. There's so much more that I didn't get to try, too, so I'm definitely going to be making future trips to this market when I'm back in the area.
Directions & Information:
Jongno 5-ga Station, Seoul Metro Line 1, Exit 8 -or- Euljiro 4-ga Station, Seoul Metro Lines 2 and 5, Exit 4.
Hours: 10am to 9-10pm. Hours will vary from stall to stall.
Pro tip: Bring cash. Most of these stalls don't accept cards.
I highly recommend stopping by Gwangjang Market if you're looking for delicious street food (and shopping, too!). Not only is it an experience within itself, it's also just a good spot to grab dinner after you've spent the day wandering around Seoul's markets!
Between studying Japanese and Asian culture in university and setting her sights on a teaching career, it came as no surprise when Zannah Smreker announced that she was moving to South Korea to teach for Chungdahm Learning. In November 2011, Zannah accepted a position through Aclipse with the Songdo branch in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul. When she's not teaching, she keeps herself busy with exploring Korea, eating all the street food, and hunting down strange Engrish shirts. Check out her blog here for more of her adventures!