Korean Traditional Food at Gwangjang Market

Posted by on Oct 13, 2016 in Destinations, Featured, Food, Korea, Korea, Travel Photo Thursday | 18 comments

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

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.


Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


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.
Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


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!


Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


Pig intestines, and while I don’t often say never this time, I do!


Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


Yukoe Alley

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.


Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


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.


Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


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).

Jeon Alley

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, Seoul, Korea


Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


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.


Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


Waiting for hungry customers…

Gwangjang Market, Seoul, Korea


Have you ever tried Korean traditional food? Which of these three dishes tempt your taste buds? Let us know in the comments.


Please welcome our co-hosts this week: Jan from Budget Travel Talk Ruth from Tanama Tales  Rachel from Rachel’s Ruminations


You can browse the Travel Photo Thursday archives here.


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  1. No I haven’t been to Korea nor tried their cuisine. I would say NO to most of this food – being a fussy eater. I know that experiencing a new country is also about trying the cuisine so I fail at this level. But I would like the pancakes. I went to Japan this year and although I was very adventurous with the food I could not stomach a lot of it!

    • Hi, Kathy! I consider myself lucky. I’ll try most food as long as the stall/restaurant looks clean 🙂

  2. We raised chickens when I was a child and I know and have seen what those feet walk through – NO WAY! And as for intestines, the same response, we killed those chickens and I remember the smell of the intestines – NO WAY! However, your food tour looks fabulous and my mouth waters at what I imagine the smells and tastes to be!!

    • Hi, Jackie! We are on the same page with the chicken feet and the intestines. The tour was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed trying some dishes that I had never eaten before.

  3. Love visiting markets and some of these food look delicious. I could go without the chicken feet and pig intestines though. The only Korean food we get these days are bulgogi and BBQ.

    • Hi, Mary! Korean bulgogi and BBQ seem to have taken the world by storm, and I love both dishes!

  4. I’ve never tried steak tartare but the way this one is served does sound tasty. I like you would have to not dwell on what I was actually eating though lol.

    • Hi, Jan. I wasn’t going to try it because raw meat turns me off. However, this was so fresh that I couldn’t resist. Over thinking it was not an option or I would have run away! 🙂

  5. I posted a food tour this week as well. There’s not much I won’t try. Not sure about the intestines though…might do on a dare.

  6. As always, I’m bookmarking all your travel advice for my trip to Seoul next spring! Looks delicious!

  7. Nancie, this is awesome! I am sharing this post with my husband. I am sure he is going to love it. It is the first time I hear about Yukoe. My husband tried beef tartare in the Czech Republic. I am sure he will like the Korean version.

  8. I would eat the pig intestines sooner than the raw meat. Thanks for taking us to this old market with you. Glad you added the directions to get there too.

  9. I’m normally willing to try new foods, but I draw the line at steak tartare. The pig intestines didn’t seem so bad once I saw your photo that made them look like sausage casing. I had been picturing a heap of intestine stew, so sausage comparatively doesn’t seem so bad. No to the chicken feet. I’ve tried them once and that was enough. But I think I could definitely enjoy the Mayak Gimbap and perhaps the Jeon. (My son has a friend named Jeon. I think she’s Korean. Now, I’m wondering if her name is Pancake.)

  10. Nancie, I’ve never tried nude kimbap before, but your photos sure do make me miss Korean food. Love them.

  11. As I don’t think that I’ll get to go to Korea soon, I’ll have to make a Kimbap myself. It sounds like a very interesting combination.

  12. Ha Nancie- A quest for the best food sounds like my kind of adventure! I remember seeing giant bowls filled with chicken feet (took some great pics) at the Guatemalan markets but, thank God, I never did find one on my plate or in my soup bowl. I’d definitely try the steak tartare but intestines – yeesh!

  13. I love kimbap and of course bibimbop! You’ve got me missing Korea now! Thanks for linking up! #wkendtravelinspiration

    • I never turn down a bowl of bibimbop!

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