Seoul’s Gwangjang Market is an absolute must-visit for any self-respecting foodies. Its bustling lanes are full of food stalls and the area comes alive at night, when locals fill the benches of the different establishments. The owners (seemingly always older Korean ladies) are quick to fill patrons’ bowls with delicious freshly-cooked food. The laughter and beer flow late into the night as Seoulites unwind after a long day at work, stop by for a quick snack or just pick up a cheap takeaway dinner. Seeing as Korean food is one of the reasons why everyone should visit this incredible country, I had to check it out!
I came out of Jongno-5 station on a warm evening and made my way to the nearby entrance to Gwangjang Market. Two narrow walkways squeezed between countless stalls offering Korean specialities like gimbap and tteokbokki, mandu dumplings and, of course, beer. Each stall had benches positioned right at the front so no matter where you sat, you were essentially at the Chef’s Table, watching the owners expertly prepare fresh food right in front of you.
These benches are also communal so you invariably find yourself rubbing shoulders with strangers. Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet! It’s great for people watching and casual conversation – I struck up a conversation with a Scottish expat who shared his beer over stories of his experiences in Korea. In a country where the culture is inherently social, this wasn’t a big surprise.
I started off by walking along the lanes, taking in the sights and the smells before deciding to sit down at a stall selling delicious-looking dumplings. There was a choice of two flavours – minced kimchi and pork and I tried both. They were absolutely delicious, especially when paired with tasty sauces and more kimchi on the side. In Korea, all sides are usually free and you can keep topping them up!
Next up was a stall selling gimbap – Korea’s answer to sushi – and tteokbokki, which are hot rice rolls prepared in a chilli sauce. I couldn’t choose between the two so I just ordered a big plate of both! It was very hearty and filling and I could barely move afterwards!
I strolled around and watched locals enjoy drinks and food with friends – the atmosphere was really welcoming and the market was only getting livelier as the evening went on. All that walking around and trying delicious street food is thirsty work so I treated myself to a freshly made sugarcane juice – one of my favourite drinks!
A visit to Gwangjang Market is one of the top things to do in Seoul – especially if you want to get a taste for traditional Korean food and experience it fresh and in a real local environment.
What: Gwangjang Market is a food market in Seoul, South Korea. Its alleyways are full of stalls offering Korean street food and drinks. It’s a great way to interact with the locals while trying some traditional dishes
Opening Hours: Gwangjang Market food stalls are open daily until around 11pm. Stores in the market open 08:30-18:30 and are closed on Sundays
Getting There: Gwangjang Market is located at 88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu. The easiest way to reach Gwangjang Market is by taking the subway to Jongno-5 station. It’s only four stops away from Seoul’s main station on the 1 line. Take exit 8 or 9 and you’ll come out right next to the market. For more information on using public transport in Korea, check out my Korea Essential Tips post.
How Much: Street food isn’t as cheap as in other parts of Asia but you can still have a great meal without breaking the bank. A portion of dumplings costs around £3 ($4) and a full plate of tteokbokki and gimbap is around £5 ($6.50)
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