Gwangjang Market the True Soul of Seoul Food
There are many food markets in Seoul with their own distinct personalities and characteristics. I highly recommend Gwangjang Market (광장시장) for a first time visitor to Korea because of its bare bones, nitty gritty feeling and because it features many of the traditional foods of Korea under one roof. Most food here is between $2-$5, so you can sample many foods for under $20.
Bare Bones and Primitive Ambience at Gwangjang Market
If you are a germophobe or neat freak this is not the market for you. Many of the foods are cooked in extremely heavy oils that do not look like the best quality. You will walk around and see all kinds of fish, brains, blood sausages, pig’s heads and other non-dainty foods. This is the place for someone who wants a true ethnic experience of Korea’s food made by keeping costs down. Generally I like to eat food made with nice ingredients, cooked in high quality oil that is not reused, and made with good seasoning. This is not the place for this, however, it is recommended to really taste the true bare bones flavors and tastes of Seoul.
Gwangjang Market Location and Directions
Address English: 88, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Address Korean: 서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 88 (예지동)
Opening Hours Restaurants: 8:30AM-11:00PM
Opening Hours Stores: 8:30AM-6:00PM
Visit Korea Info Page for Gwangjang Market
Tips for Visiting Gwangjang Market
1. Bring Cash, some of the stores accept credit card, but generally the stalls are cash only. Most foods are $3-$5/each.
2. In addition to the many restaurants and food stalls there are also many hanbok (Korean traditional silk costume) stores and also housewares stores for bowls and utensils. If you want to shop but also eat at the market get there before 6PM when the stores close but restaurants remain open.
3. Don’t fall for the trick of eating the fake mayak kimbap! Mayak Kimbap is the most famous food at this market, there is one true original place to eat this in the middle of the market. However many food stalls at the entrance of the market sell kimbap too; foreign tourists mistake this for the original mayak kimbap and end up eating the wrong faux mayak kimbap!
4. This is a good market to go to if you stay out late at night because it is open until 11PM. Many popular food markets such as Myeongdong Market pack up and wind down much earlier before 9PM, so if you want to stay out late and eat this is a good choice.
Gwangjang Market Entrance
Traditional Korean Food to eat at Gwangjang Market
The most famous traditional foods to eat here are the mandoo dumplings, kalguku hand cut knife noodles, bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes fried in oil), and kimbap
The Most Famous Food at Gwangjang Market: Mayak Kimbap
“Mayak” means drug in Korean. This Kimbap is called “Mayak Kimbap” because it is so tasty that it is addictive like a drug. I agree, these little kimbap are really addictive. The secret to the addiction is that the kimbap are coated in so much sesame oil. Anytime you add a ton of high calorie, rich umami, taste to a food it becomes addictive. Make sure you find this stall in the middle of the market with the bright red sign. The market is shaped as one long rectangular column so it is not too hard to find the middle of the market. This is one of the few stalls that has a little glass room behind it to eat the food. In addition to kimbap, the stall also sells odeng and odeng soup. Odeng soup with a pack of kimbap really hits the spot.
Trending Food at Gwangjang Market
In Korea there are always new trends in food, makeup, and fashion that last only a few weeks or months. The last time I went to Gwangjang Market in the winter, the trending food with the longest line was the “soo soo boo ggoo me”, buckwheat pancakes with red bean filling.
Other Famous Korean Food Markets to Visit
In addition to Gwangjang Market I would also recommend visiting these other markets around Seoul as well
1. Myeongdong Street Food Night Market– for a larger variety of traditional and non-traditional trending street foods
2. Tongin Market– for the best sesame oil and gochugaru tteokbokki in Seoul
3. Noryangjin Fish Market– the best seafood market in Seoul and probably my favorite market in all of Korea
4. Lotte Department Store Food Court– for a traditional large department store food court experience with many vendors
5. Gourmet 494 Galleria Food Court– for an upscale ritzy department store food court and supermarket experience