Seoul’s Gwangjang Market

by Liz on January 25, 2013

in Food,Travel


It was a chilly day when I visited Gwangjang Sijang in Seoul, but the subzero temperatures didn’t seem to bother some of Korea’s hardiest street stall entrepreneurs.

Most of them, nearly all women, were too preoccupied with pancakes on the griddle, or cauldrons filled with porridge.


Maybe it was because it was a Saturday, but the food stalls from north to south were packed! Which, to me at least, came as a surprise, because I’m quite familiar with this market.

My maternal grandmother fled North Korea in the late 1940s with two little girls (one of them, my mother). After the Korean War she began selling fabrics at one of the above-level floors of Gwangjang. She worked there, I believe, for five decades, and we would visit her. She would awake at 4AM, so this was the only way we’d actually see her during the day.

On our way home, we’d sometimes stop at one of the many stalls serving Sundae (Korean blood sausage), kimbap or tteokbokki.


But up until recently, there were never too many people at this market largely dominated by humble migrants from Hamgyeong and Pyongan provinces.

All that’s changed now, and it seems TV media, both foreign and domestic, may have had something to do with Gwangjang’s status as the new, hip place to be.


It’s interesting to note food in Korea, even the most ordinary everyday stuff, is fetishized.

Koreans used to eat to live. Nowadays, it’s safe to say, they live to eat.

The Korean market has always been a traditional feminine domain. Women seem to be doing all the money-making, and the day I went certainly proved this point.

But with a new woman president at the helm in South Korea, perhaps the political power-making will be in the hands of women as well.


So here’s to a new year, new pancakes on the griddle, and more importantly, to our appetite.

Gwangjang Market is located at 6-1 Yeji-dong, near Jongno-5(o)-ga station, Line 1, exit 8.

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