시장 (sijang), or traditional markets, are one of my favorite things about Korea. Most major cities in Korea are home to several marketplaces where street food, produce, meats, textiles, and souvenirs are sold. These kinds of markets have a deep history in Korea, becoming popularized more than over 100 years ago during a period of increased urbanization.
For me, being able to interact with vendors is one of the biggest treasures of going to a market. Most of the stalls are family-owned and some have been operating for several years and generations. Many of the vendors are incredibly warm and kind, making it feel like you are getting fed by a member of your own family. Sometimes vendors will also throw in extra food or products as a “service”, particularly if you purchase a lot from their stall. Since many of the vendors know the market like the back of their hand, they can also give you recommendations on where to buy the most delicious foods (other than their own).
The markets are a great place for both visitors and locals to get a taste of Korean street-food staples such as tteokbokki, (spicy rice cakes), sundae (blood sausage), or kimbap (rice rolls). Not only is market food affordable and delicious, but you get to support small businesses, which is always great! Don’t fret if you don’t understand Korean, as most food vendors have their prices labeled clearly in multiple languages. Whether you’re studying abroad or just visiting, I highly recommend going to at least one market while in Korea!
Markets I recommend:
- For the complete experience: Gwangjang Market (광장시장) - one of the largest and oldest markets in Korea, it is a must-visit. One of the vendors was even featured on the Netflix show ‘Street Food’
- For the unique experience: Tongin Market (통인시장) - for 5,000won (less than $5USD), the market will provide you with a tray and 10 coins, which can be exchanged for food at participating stalls
- For the best kimchi jeon ever: Namdaemun Market (남대문시장) - home of the best kimchi jean (pancake) in Seoul
- For the fish lovers: Noryanjin Market (노량진시장) - a market specializing in fresh fish!
- For the Busan travelers: Gukje Market (국제시장) - one of the most famous markets in Busan, if you visit this southern city, check it out!
*Tip: bring cash as many of the vendors don’t accept cards!