Although Korea saves you money in many areas, grocery shopping is not one of them. Buying fruit and vegetables in Korea can be really exorbitant and possibly on par with European prices. It’s probably because as foreigners we are craving all those delicious products from back home such as strawberries, cherries and walnuts. We are used to cooking with certain items and eating certain foods. One of the toughest parts of living in Asia is learning a whole new way of cooking and having to try new vegetables and fruits that seem foreign to us.
If you shop like a Korean and buy groceries for Kimchi Jiggae and Bibimbap then your shopping bill will most certainly not be as high, but it’s more likely that foreigners will stick to their regular eating styles. Grocery shopping in Korea can become quite stressful and depressing for the majority of foreigners when they are waiting for that first salary check to come in. This is when you will be glad to make use of your local Korean market.
First of all, find out where your local market is. Once you have located it, go and take a stroll through the market and compare prices from store to store. Each market store has varying prices and it is almost guaranteed that you will find that same bunch of bananas for $1 less than the store you were at before. Once you have figured out all the groceries you can buy in the market, start omitting those things off your regular shopping list. You will be surprised how many things you can actually buy in your local market that are fresh and of a higher quality compared to items in any Lotte Department Store or Homeplus.
After you have found your local market, become a regular at certain market stores. Korean’s are very attentive and they will remember their favorite foreign customers that come back frequently. The Korean store owner might even sometimes offer you a better deal or give you some free groceries. Service is very important to Korean people and what better way to engage in real Korean culture than to shop your way down your local market streets. Not only is there a great selection of groceries to buy, but there is also lots of tasty street food selections to try. Such food includes fried mandu, sweet chilli chicken, bulgogi on a stick and patbingsu snow cones!
I have come to love my trips to the neighborhoods’ local Korean market in Sinchon, Seoul. I still am shocked every time I walk home with three bags full of fruit and vegetables for under $20! I always go to the same local shops and just the other day the marketplace owner gave me a $2 discount on my purchase. For $18 my grocery list consists of 5 x eggplants, 2 x large carrots, 1 x cherry tomato container, 1 x bunch of bananas, 5 x red apples, 1 x bag of mushrooms, 2 x bell peppers, 6 x cucumbers and 1 x bag of spinach. Regularly after work, co-workers and I like to buy the spicy fried chicken from the market for only $5! We share this with some beer for all under $10! Generally on the weekends, this particular fried chicken vendor is so busy that the line goes all the way down our market street.
At the Sinchon Market you can also buy whole chickens, fresh fish, fresh seafood, meats, nuts, and other daily supplies. There are also reasonably priced outdoor restaurants that you can enjoy a soju and bulgogi stick at. If you would like to make full use of those beautiful summer nights, the market is a great place to stroll, try plenty of delicious treats and interact with your local community.
The markets are generally buzzing with all sorts of people, from old Ajumma’s and Ajossi’s to the warmest and friendliest middle aged farmers. You can absorb the many different people as they walk by. Korea is not a country where the high class does not go to the market. Korean’s are generally humble and supporting their local community and fellow countrymen is considered the greatest pride among their people. You can enjoy the lady walking her brightly colored pink-dyed dog, or watch the lady in very high shoes strut her stuff down the market street. You can also observe a granny 98-in-the-shade pushing a big cart of apples or a middle aged man riding his purple-basket bicycle collecting some groceries.
I recommend that every foreign teacher should indulge in market shopping and support their local Korean community. Not only will you save money, but you will also gain some new perspectives on Korean people and Korean culture. Finally it will allow you to immerse yourself into the Asian way of life.
It is no surprise that Tijana Huysamen, a South African born Capetownian, avid traveler and travel journalist, fell in love with South Korea and its people. After Tijana arrived in South Korea in 2010, she had the opportunity to live in the heart of the Korean countryside. During her time spent in Chungnam province she learned to speak Korean, prepare Korean food and experience the humble nature of the countryside people. After a year break in New York, Tijana jumped at the opportunity to return to Korea again, and is currently working at the CDI Jamsil Branch, in Jamsil, Seoul. Read Tijana’s Aclipse blog to gain a unique perspective on Korea and her shared experiences and adventures both in a major city and in the countryside. Follow Tijana on Twitter @TeeAnni or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request more information on teaching in Korea!