When I first came to Korea in 2011, I visited a few traditional markets in the city to take in the culture and lifestyle of Seoul. One of the qualities I love about the city is how amongst the modern buildings, traditional markets can be found. I love the hustle and bustle of the markets, the neatly displayed produce and of course, the great bargains.
I am honoured to be working with the Small Enterprise and Market Service, an organization dedicated to the prosperity of small businesses and markets in Korea. The purpose of this organization is to promote and support small enterprises in Korea to both Koreans and the foreigners who visit. Did you know that there are over 1,500 traditional markets in Korea? In these markets there are approximately 210,000 stores and 350,000 merchants.These businesses represent passionate individuals who are working to provide products and services to their community. This is what I love about traditional markets, I feel like I can connect with people. Even though I cannot speak Korean well (yet), it is the human connection that I enjoy. Since I am a small town Canadian girl, getting to have a personal experience with someone while living in one of the biggest cities in the world is a precious moment for me.
Through this blog series, I will be visiting six different traditional markets to share with you my experiences, some photos and to hopefully interest you in visiting a local market near you. The first market I was assigned to visit was Seokbawi Market (석바위 시장) in Incheon. Having only been to Incheon for the airport, I was eager to get to explore a new neighborhood. The Seokbawi Market is walking distance from GanSeok Station (간석역) on line number 1. The layout of the market is very long and narrow, so the numerous entrances easily accessible from the main roads. Maps showing the location of the market as well as a vendor map can be found on the market’s website here. The open market opens at 9:00 am, with some merchants opening at 10:00 am, and closes at 11:00 pm.
This market has everything you could need – produce, meat, seafood, bedding, kitchen tools, clothes, shoes, plants, flowers and even a small grocery store for packaged foods and various goods. And, when you feel hungry, there are several restaurants right inside the market. The day I visited the market was raining, so this made exploring and wandering around the perfect activity for the day.
I love fresh produce, so of course, this is what I was the most interested in. Right away I noticed the prices were excellent. I bought two, perfectly-ripe mangoes for only 2,500 won. If I didn’t have to take the subway back to Seoul, I would have done all my grocery shopping for the week there.
The dried goods selection was impressive. I have to admit that there were many types of beans and grains that I was not familiar with. I am so curious now so I hope to pick up some new grains to experiment with on my next market trip. One surprising item that I found were hemp seeds. I’ve always ordered hemp seeds online, so it is great to learn that now I can buy them locally. They are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein and available at the market for such a great price. The bag I bought was 8,000 won which is a comparable price to a similarly sized bag available online.
I eat a lot of nuts in my diet, and prefer the taste of raw nuts, but they can be difficult and very expensive at the major big supermarkets. So, I was so excited to discover that the Seokbawi Market had a few vendors selling roasted as well as raw nuts. I bought a small bag of raw cashews for 5,000 won which I think is a great deal. There is even a speciality shop that roasts their own nuts. The roasting barrels are displayed in the front of the shop so you can see and smell the aroma of almonds and peanuts. It’s so enticing!
The speciality of this market seemed to be the fresh noodles. These noodles were featured in the market restaurants and could be seen hanging to dry in the noodle shop. For lunch I enjoyed a bowl of kongguksu (콩국수) a summer time chilled noodle dish with a soy milk base. This restaurant made everything from scratch and the taste was delicious. Sometimes I find this dish to be a little sweet, but this was excellent. They used a blend of while and black soybeans, adding an earthier flavour to the broth.
Overall, I really enjoyed this market. I wish I could speak Korean better so that I can communicate more easily with the market vendors. I would love to be able to ask more specific questions such as the best cooking methods, or to learn some recipes to try. But don’t let the language barrier deter you from checking out the market. Most shop keepers have a calculator handy to clearly inform you of the price, so the shopping experience will still be enjoyable. My only regret is that I didn’t buy more because there were some great deals.