Gwangjang market, Korean street food mecca

18.01.17 06:33 PM By Putri

As I have explained briefly on my previous post, Gwangjang market is one of the oldest and the largest functioning market in South Korea with around 5000 vendors selling different things like food, textile, etc. What fascinated me the most was the food section. 

I love Korean food and have been dreaming to eat authentic Korean street food since I watched Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown season 5, episode 1 where he re-visited Korea after 10 years. I didn’t really go to the place he visited, but I did get my bubbly butt to  Korean street food mecca in Gwangjang market.

Seriously, Gwangjang market is the culmination of the diverse and delicious flavors of Korean street food. Most of the indoor part of the market serves as somekind of a mega street food court a.k.a. heaven. The vendors were always busy preparing their food fresh. The air is filled with flavors, good flavors. It's just amazing. The locals and tourist sit side by side enjoying the delicious food and oftenly ended up with a light chat. 

At the market, I didn’t only get to taste a lot of things that to this date I don’t even know the name, but I could also watch the sharply skilled vendors preparing the food right before my eyes. It’s like watching Foodnetwork but way better; I got to taste the food for real! I did prepare myself well before the trip; with empty stomach.

I spent the first 30 minutes trying to identified the food on each stall and I failed miserably. Apparently, I didn’t know much about Korean street food apart from Tteokbokki and Gimbap. Such an amateur! But worry not (as I console my soul), I still have plenty of time to learn. Here is how I categorize the food in Gwangjang market: 

Fried food
It is amazing how the Korean fried their food. I love it! It seems they put whatever they like in a flour and or egg batter and deep fry it, et voila; tasty (not so healthy) finger food. 
If you walk around, you will realize that most of the vendors sell similar food and that's where things get confusing: which vendor should you trust to supply your protein and carbs in the most delicious form. It's literally a plethora of vendors to choose from. I am sure there are some articles on which vendor sells the best what food in Gwangjang market, but that day I was internetless. 

My first choice fell on the vendor with the most clients, I mean, the vendor must be really good so it has so many loyal customers, right? but the problem was, there were only limited seat to sit on so it was either I wait or simply go to the next vendor. I choose the later decision. 

Look at those vegetables tempura! yumm yumm! Don't you want to take one and dip it in spicy sauce?
Bindaetteok (mung bean pancake) vendor and her semi-traditional mung bean grinder to make the dough

I-Know-That-One food
This was where I got to tick off one of my bucket list: eating authentic Korean street food in Korea. Yay! 

Steamed mandu (Korean dumplings) with meat and vegetable fillings, and Tteokbokki (rice cake in volcanic spicy sauce)

I have eaten a lot of tteokboki versions before (home made, restaurants, even instant mix) and I always thought tteokbokki is cooked with a lot of other ingredients like fish meatballs, etc, but in Gwanjang, their tteokboki only consist two main ingredients: gooey rice cake and flavorful spicy thick sauce. To balance the spicyness, I took it with a plate of gimbap, filled my mouth with one after the other and almost ended up with a carbohydrate coma.  Mission accomplished. 

Gimbab. This one is highly addictive. Consume with care.

If someone says these are merely sushi, please slap them accross the face while yelling: "and J. R. R. Tolkien is just an author like E. L. James?". 

The Korean will thank you and think that you are knowledgeable with a slight anger management problem. 

That-could-kill-me food
I am not a picky eater but I do have some food allergies. For examples, I can't eat crabs without falling unconscious and burden everyone around me with my helpless heavy bum. I have to be careful with this one, even a small amount of crabity (is that even a word?) would cost me to have a swollen face, you know like those victims of botched botox procedure.

Assorted seafood vendor I kept away from year
Tiny crabs cooked in two different recipes, either one is deadly enough for me

The vendors were very nice and they would like you to have a bite of the food they are selling, some time they could be a lil persistent. Especially this lady, she speaks not a word of English, yet she tried her best to confinced me to at least have a taste of her food. I had no idea how to tell her how deadly those crabs for were for me, (not) thanx to my allergies. 

The meme on the left expresses how I felt when she offered me to have a bite. 

There's nothing deadly for me in this pic on the right, which displays a tiny mountain of colorful gimbap next to slow-cooked pig snout and knuckles. Both awesome and grotesque at the same time

Dried food
There is a section in this market dedicated to dried food, from dry ingredients to pre-packaged food. Most of them come in big quantity with bargainable price. Pretty interesting, I must admit. You can also find assorted snack in cute package like the one you find at souvenir shops or at the airpot, but with a better price.  

Fresh juice

I didn't find that much beverage vendors apart from the fresh juice vendors. I had a glass for myself to flush down the gimbap and tteokboki, it was really refreshing. The juice vendors had a lot of fruit mix choices. Simply pick any glass filled with your fav fruit and the vendor will add a bit of water, put it in a juicer, and pour it back into your glass right away. You can't get any fresher than that. 

Isn't pretty?!

Gwanjang market offered some of the best street food I have eaten so far. It's a mix of old and new, modern and traditional, all under one roof. As long as you keep your mind open to new flavor and taste, you will likely to enjoy your visit in this market. 

Happy munching!