Gwangjang Market: Who put the ‘Gwang’ in the Gwang-a-jang-a-ding-dong?

Jongno-4-ga
Opening hours: Monday- Saturday 7am- 7pm

Gwangjang Market exterior

Gwangjang Market exterior

This little gem sits high on my list of ‘Things to do when in Seoul.’ Located a stone’s throw away from the commanding pillars of South Korean fashion heaven, Migliore and Doota at Dongdaemun, try out Gwangjang Market for a more rough and ready experience. While this two story, grubby market is no looker from the outside, step inside and the magic will soon become apparent. Shuffle on past the obligatory heinous ajuma polyester apparel, down the narrow, dank and cluttered alleys, and get lost in the fascinating network of arteries which pulsate through Gwangjang. There’s textiles and all kinds of sewing accoutrements, bedding, traditional tidbits, Hanboks, the usual pickled vegetables and side dishes, wee turtles (which must be for human consumption) and very odd arrangements of Korean sweets made to look like things such as underwater creatures. Just watch out for the speeding scooters laden with mounds of fabric which dart in and out of the alleys like little silver fish.

Strange Korean candies at Gwangjang Market

Strange Korean candies (really! that's not an octopus or prawns!) and mushrooms for sale at Gwangjang Market

These ‘arteries’ all lead to the throbbing heart of the market where rows upon rows of stalls offer all kinds of Korean street food heroes. The more adventurous may want to sample pig’s trotters, snout, intestines or ‘sundae’- Korean blood sausage. However, you’d be mad not to try the bindaettuk, Gwangjang’s signature dish. This thick mung bean pancake has been laced with garlic and bean sprouts, and is served with soy sauce. Do as everyone else, and wash down with magkeolli, rice wine. May I also recommend the vegetarian friendly barley bi bim bo li, which is a regular bi bim bap where the rice has been replaced with barley. It’s amazing! If you’re lucky, this experience might be set to the sultry soundtrack of Baek Yeon-hwa, a near 90 year old man decked out in a suit covered in pearl buttons who often appears playing his sax.

Ajuma selling her wares at Gwangjang Market

Ajuma selling her wares at Gwangjang Market

The second floor is a real treasure trove. Home to Korea’s largest collection of used clothing, there are hundreds of stalls cobbled together with racks bursting with any kind of clothing, belts, shoes and bags your heart may desire. There are lots of cool vintage things for purchase which are apparently shipped over from Japan. I love the variety of clothing here and not everything is in Korean proportioned sizes (miniscule). Things are pretty cheap, say 15,000 for a jumper or dress. And if anything is a little on the large side, or if that dress could really do with a shorter hemline, take it to one of the tailors off at the side who’ll sort you out in a matter of minutes.

Used clothing at Gwangjang Market

Used clothing at Gwangjang Market

There’s much fun to be had at Gwangjang market. I love driving some hard bargains in the clothing section upstairs then moseying on down to fill up on some street food diamonds. The food stalls are most fun around 5pm when the office workers descend for their daily fix. Gwangjang is loud, cramped, chaotic and buzzing- a whirlwind of colours, sights and smells. So just a little different from the sanitised offerings at all the regular department stores. Get stuck in!

Directions: Hop off the subway at Jongno-5-ga subway exit 8.

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4 Responses to “Gwangjang Market: Who put the ‘Gwang’ in the Gwang-a-jang-a-ding-dong?”

  1. helatronica says:

    i want to go there! it sounds well fun!

  2. Sarah says:

    I would love to take you there! So much! You would especially love the saxaphone man with the buttons, I’m sure!

  3. jersuji says:

    How many people were there?
    Were there many people at Gwangjang market?
    I think that popularity of traditional markets are declining in Korea.
    Because of fast-expanding discount store chains like E-mart, Lotte mart, Homeplus, etc.

    I’m a native Korean.
    I wonder about strange candies.
    I can’t find like any candy.
    Could you tell me where the candies are?

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi! Yes, whenever I’ve been there, it’s always been very busy! I’ve often had to queue to eat the bindaedukk! They are so yummy. It’s a shame that traditional markets are in decline because they’re overshadowed by big chains :(

    Oh, maybe they’re not candies! They’re spread out throughout the market in shops that sell other Korean sweets (like these amazing greasy flower shaped cookies…) and nuts etc.

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