Gourmet Trips

Street food in Seoul

In Seoul you can have sit-down meals in restaurants ranging from affordable to decadent, or you can have street food that also range from affordable to cutthroat. We talk a walk around Namdaemun to look for our street food.

Sungnyemun 숭례문 崇禮門

Sungnyemun 숭례문 崇禮門

One of the four main gates of the fortress built to protect the capital (present-day Seoul) of Joseon, this gatehouse is better known by its another name Namdaemun (“Great South Gate”), given since it is located on the south of the walled capital. Officially it is referred to as the Gate of Esteemed Rituals. And around this junction are the main roads leading to two main tourist attractions the Jongno district where palaces are, and Myeongdong where the shopping is. And around these districts you can find all kinds of street foods Seoul can offer.

Pojangmacha 포장마차 Food Tent/Wagon

Pojangmacha 포장마차 Food tent

Pojangmacha 포장마차 is form of commercial establishment based out of a small tent (sometimes on wheels). These establishment sell popular street foods, such as hotteok (pancakes), gimbap (Korean futomaki), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), sundae (blood sausage), dakkochi (Korean skewered chicken)odeng (Korean fish cakes), mandu (dumplings) , and anju (dishes accompanied with drinking).

A quick and affordable bite for salaryman

In the 1970s pojangmacha flourished in Seoul as the palli-palli (빨리-빨리: “hurry up”) culture kept Koreans at work late. As Seoulites streamed out of work, they stopped at a pojangmacha for a quick drink and a bite to eat. Today, the pojangmacha menus have become increasingly diverse and the seating became even more comfortable.

Grilled ginkgo nuts as anju

You can find many pojangmacha in the back streets of Seoul, just like this one in Nandaemun-ro. If you walk into one, the first thing you will notice is that the price tag is surprisingly hefty. Fried pork, squid, fish and other meals are usually north of 10,000 won ($10), which is similar to the price tag found in proper bars or restaurants with actual tables, chairs, real walls and real service.

Dakdongjib 닭똥집 A nicely sautéed plate of chicken gizzards

Another thing is that most — if not all — dishes are ones typically associated with alcohol, collectively called “anju”. Chicken gizzard in Korea is almost exclusively consumed with drinks

Pan grilled mackerel (saba)

Pojangmacha are usually a place where Koreans go for “i-cha (second round)” of drinks, rarely anyone’s initial choice for a get-together. It is also somewhere you go if you just want to have a quick drink by yourself. In fact, I came here tonight after a meal in a Michelin-star restaurant and feeling peckish after that.

Galchijolim golmog 갈치조림 골목 Stewed Beltfish Alley

Galchijolim 갈치조림 Stewed belt fish was not originally the main dish of the alley in Namdaemun Market as the restaurants offered a variety of dishes including stewed mackerel and stewed pollack; however, the stewed belt fish became the most popular dish.

Galchijorim 갈치조림 – Photo Courtesy of Korea Tourism Organisation.

The stewed belt fish is so delicious that it even attracts salarymen in the nearby area, not to mention the vendors in the market. After it has been introduced on television, the Stewed Beltfish Alley became extremely famous and was popular to local and foreigners alike. Each restaurant has its own know-how on how to get hold of fresh belt fish. Some restaurants use belt fish from Yeosu while others prefer belt fish from Jeju.

Unfortunately it was closed by the time I went to the alley and had to settle for something else.

Kalgugsu golmog 칼국수 골목 Noodle Soup Alley

When you pass under an arch that indicates the Gate 5 of the Namdaemun Market and walk for a while, you will be able to find the Noodle Soup Alley on your left. You can walk through the alley, looking around a number of noodle soup vendors on both sides of the alley. On this Noodle Soup Alley, you can enjoy a variety of dishes such as noodle soup, hand-pulled dough soup, noodles in broth, cold buckwheat noodles with young summer radish kimchi, sticky rice, barley bibimbap, and cold buckwheat noodles. Each restaurant has a small space for cooking and a long table with chairs in front of it. Because the alley is always crowded with people passing by or enjoying their food, you might think it is such an uncomfortable place to enjoy food. However, thanks to the lively atmosphere of the market, the food will taste even better. One of the most popular dishes is the noodle soup that has thick noodles in savory broth.

This is the place where you will be touched by the warmth of people as well as where you can enjoy delicious local food in a traditional market with a lively atmosphere.

Sundae 순대 steamed blood sausage

Sundae 순대 (or soondae) is steamed blood sausage made using pig’s intestine stuffed with pig’s blood, glutinous rice and glass noodles. I kept popping one after another into my mouth, the mild umami and strong earthiness being the draw. There’s no weird taste or smell at all. Served with a side of beef tongue, heart and tripe.

Sujebi 수제비 hand-pulled dough soup

Sujebi 수제비 hand-pulled dough soup is similar to the Chinese gnocchi 面疙瘩 in shape but very close to Singapore very own Qiulian’s handmade noodles 秋莲板面 in taste. In fact the soup based is closer to Qiulian’s, with the user of an anchovies stock with seaweed and other similar flavours.

One good thing about the Noodle Soup Alley in Namdaemun is that you will be given free food samples if you order a dish. We ordered the noodle soup, and we got a small side of get cold buckwheat noodles.

Namdaemun Market 남대문시장
21, Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 중구 남대문시장4길 21

Myeongdong Night Market

One of Seoul’s most famous night markets, Myeongdong Night Market is in a league of its own when carving out your evening plans. From about 5pm onward, the main street of Myeongdong fills up with food stalls.

While you can basically find street food on any corner in Myeongdong, for the most choices and range of street food, you want to be heading to the two main shopping streets – Myeongdong-gil and Myeongdong-8-gil

You can honestly spend hours walking up and down all the vendors in Myeongdong so what we used to do, was to grab 1 or 2 things, go sit somewhere for a late-night coffee and then head back out again to grab another street food. As a rule of thumb, if you are going to have street food in Myeongdong as your main meal for the evening then you will probably need 2 or 3 savoury items and 1 or 2 sweet treats – this is likely to cost you in the region of around 10000 – 15000 won. Yes, it is not cheap, but you are in for a very special experience.

You will be tempted to buy some strawberries as you walk around. But if you walk to Lotte and in the basement is the supermarket. At around closing time (7 pm) they will often put these seasonal strawberries on sale. You can land one some really good quality strawberries if you go at the right time. Like this giant pink strawberries that I got for $35 a punnet.

Myeongdong Night Market 명동야시장
South Korea, Seoul, Jung-gu, Chungmuro 2(i)-ga, 8-3-ga
서울특별시 중구 충무로2가 8-3-ga

Visited Mar 2023

#myeongdongnightmarket #namdaemunmarket #namdaemun

1 comment on “Street food in Seoul

  1. Pingback: Sura 수라 @ Tanjong Pagar – live2makan

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