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Korean Traditional Food
This week we’re in downtown Seoul on a quest to discover and sample some of the best Korean traditional food the city has to offer. Welcome to week 297 (14/10/2016) of Travel Photo Thursday. Here we are at Gwangjang Market, exploring the three food alleys with the most popular traditional dishes, namely: Mayak Gimbap Alley, Yukhoe Alley, and Jeon Alley.
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Gwangjang Market, opened in 1905, is Korea’s oldest market, and one of the largest traditional markets on the peninsula. Locals frequent Gwangjang for its quality silk products, kitchenware, hanbok, bedding, and fabric. However, what brings out the hordes of people is the traditional Korean food on offer, and we sampled the three most popular.
Here we have bolts of fabric and other dry goods that bring in the local shoppers.
Mayak Gimbap Alley
Our first tasting was a very popular Korean snack food, Gimbap/Kimbap (김밥). However, this was Kimbap with a twist! Instead of the laver (seaweed) being the outside wrapper, as is the norm, this version has the rice (bap) as the outer layer and has the nicknames Nude Kimbap or Mayak Kimbap. The word mayak in Korean means drug and the custom is that when a particular dish is eaten enough to become an addiction Koreans add the word mayak to the name.
This Kimbap is the absolute best I have ever eaten. The rice was still warm, and rolled inside was beef, fried egg, pickled radish, and steamed vegetables. The tuna on top gave it the final tasty touch. If you prefer a dish that isn’t spicy, this is for you. A mixture of chilies and soy sauce is available for those who like to spice things up, but entirely optional! There are some other restaurants in the alley serving up traditional style Kimbap, which I’ll try on my next visit.
To enter the market at Mayak Gimbap Alley:
Take subway line 1 to Jongno 5(o)-ga Station and leave through exit 11. Walk towards Jongno 4-ga Rotary, going around the outside of Gwangjang Market, and enter through the second west gate (광장시장 서2문). Look for the sign, Mayak Gimbap Alley.
Korean Traditional Food
On the way to our next food stop, we passed some of the funkier traditional Korean food. I had the misfortune of sampling chicken feet my first year in Korea, and never again. The thought of pig intestine gags me, and I can’t imagine this stuff ever passing my lips!
Chicken feet, for those who have never seen them before!
Pig intestines, and while I don’t often say never this time, I do!
With the taste of nude Kimbap still tantalizing our taste buds, we were off to Yukoe Alley to experience the famous dish yukhoe. Yukoe is the Korean name for beef tartare, and my first encounter with the dish. I had no idea that Koreans even eat beef tartare, let alone its popularity. Raw red meat makes me cringe, but after seeing the freshness of the beef, I decided to give it a go. We learned from our guide, Mr. Kim, that these Yukoe restaurants are known for serving only the freshest beef, purchased first thing every morning.
The raw beef is seasoned with soy sauce, salt, sesame oil, and is served on a bed of julienned Asian pear. Sides include the garlic and green chilis (super hot), and doenjang (ferment soybean paste). The beef and egg are mixed and then dip into the sesame oil. I must admit I liked Yukhoe but had to make an effort not to think about what I was eating. I was surprised at the richness of this dish.
To enter the market at Yukoe Alley:
If you want to make Yukoe Alley your first stop, exit subway line 1 at Jongno 5(o)-ga Station and walk out exit 10. The alley is located between the two pharmacies; Gukje Yakguk (국제약국) and Ujeong Yakguk (우정약국).
Our last Korean traditional food treat at Gwangjang Market was the Jeon, and specifically the nokdu-bindetteok. Jeon means pancake, and nokdu-bindetteok is mung bean (nokdu) pancake. Frying the bindetteok in oil on an open grill, the jeon is stuffed with a tasty mixture of mung bean (ground nokdu, and made fresh daily), seasoned vegetables, and homemade kimchi. I found this jeon to be a bit too oily for my taste, but I would try it again. I think it is an acquired taste. When I return to Jeon Alley, I plan to sample some of the other varieties of jeon on offer.
To enter the market a Jeon Alley:
Subway line 1 to Jongno 5(o)-ga Station and walk out exit 9. You’re at the main entrance of the market, and Jeon Alley.
Gwangjang Market was our first experience with Korean traditional food on this food tour. I did the tour with a friend, and we agreed that our favorite of the three dishes was the nude kimbap, and dubbed it “the best kimbap ever”! We shared all of the dishes, and the cost was a very budget-friendly ten dollars each. To avoid the crowds arrive between 10 am, and 11 am, especially on the weekend. Hours are 9 am to 11 pm during the week, and 9 pm on the weekend.
Come back next time, when we’ll tease your taste buds with more Korean traditional food from Insadong Street and Tongin Market.
Waiting for hungry customers…
Have you ever tried Korean traditional food? Which of these three dishes tempt your taste buds? Let us know in the comments.
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