6 of South Korea’s most spectacular food markets

by Great British Chefs 22 October 2021

An ever-thriving part of South Korean culture, some of Asia’s most highly regarded food markets are located both in Seoul and further afield. We take a look at some of the best food markets the country has to offer.

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Famed for its bustling cities and vibrant culture, the list of things to do and see in South Korea is seemingly endless. It’s a country packed full of incredible attractions, fantastic shops and (of course) countless restaurants. But if you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit one of South Korea’s major cities, you’ll probably be aware of the many amazing food markets. Constantly buzzing throughout the day and in some cases deep into the night, these markets are the place to go for a real taste of Korea.

Whether you’re just wanting to go for a wander round to soak up the atmosphere while indulging in some traditional Korean street food like haemul pajeon (a spring onion buchimgae, or pancake) and twigim (deep-fried food, or tempura), or are on the hunt for fresh local produce to cook with, you can be sure these markets have everything and anything you’d want to eat. While the South Korean capital of Seoul is bursting at the seams with awesome food markets, there are plenty more in other parts of the country too. These are six of South Korea’s must-try food markets so you know where you should be heading to when you visit.

Gwangjang market, Seoul

Found in the central Jongno District of the South Korean capital, this huge indoor food hall is one of the oldest continuously functioning markets in the whole country, having first opened in 1905. Over the years Gwangjang market has grown from a small space where farmers and suppliers from local regions would come to sell their produce, to somewhere you can buy pretty much everything imaginable. Today, however, it is now most famous for its incredible selection of Korean street food.

Regarded as one of the go-to spots in Seoul for authentic local food, there are quite literally hundreds of different stalls stacked high with traditional Korean fare alongside local specialities. The dish that Gwangjang is probably most synonymous with is mayak gimbap, which is said to have originated at the market’s Mo-Nyeo Woncho stall over forty years ago. Consisting of rice and pickled vegetables wrapped in seaweed and covered in sesame seeds, you’ll see these little rolls piled high throughout the market; giving them a try is absolutely essential.

Jagalchi market, Busan

The largest fish market in the whole of South Korea, Jagalchi market is situated in the city of Busan and renowned for its unrivalled selection of both live and dried fish. Based right by the port of Nampo, the market is run almost exclusively by Korean women known as ajummas who gut the fish and then sell them to the public. Straddling two floors in a huge building, the market also extends outside, allowing visitors to watch the boats coming in and out while they peruse the stalls.

With thousands of different types of seafood available, from common species to delicacies, all at ultra-affordable prices, you won’t be short of choice at Jagalchi. Depending on what you decide to buy, you can then choose whether to take the produce home to cook yourself or take it to one of the upstairs restaurants, where they will prepare and cook it for you there and then!

Dongdaemun market, Seoul

More of a shopping region than one specific market, Dongdaemun is made up of loads of smaller markets, malls and shops. These include the Gwanghui and Jeil Pyeonghwa markets, which are both packed full of street food vendors serving both traditional Korean dishes like dumplings, as well as lots of Western classics. This makes it a particularly popular spot with tourists.

What makes Dongdaemun market really stand out from many of Seoul’s other markets however, is the fact that it stays open deep into the night. In fact, the markets within the region are at their most buzzing post-6pm, as all the locals congregate after work. Over on Mukja Golmok, a small food alley running alongside the main market, there are stalls staying open as late as 3am, serving various different types of Korean food including grilled fish and whole chicken soup – two of this area’s specialities.

Nambu market, Jeonju

The oldest traditional market in the western city of Jeonju, Nambu market sells pretty much everything you can possibly imagine. From furniture and pottery to fresh ingredients, locals and tourists alike flock here to peruse the 800 stalls in search of a bargain. Although Nambu market is open throughout the day, it’s during the evenings that things really spark into life.

A night market like Nambu wouldn’t be the same without a huge array of street food vendors selling the local specialities. In Jeonju delicacies include kongnamul gukbap (a bean sprout soup served with rice), and sundae gukbap – a type of hot-pot made with a specific type of blood sausage which is filled with a mixture of ingredients and then steamed. Alongside the food at Nambu, there are also plenty of places selling rice wine to sip on while you explore the market.

Dongmun market, Jeju Island

Situated on the South Korean island of Jeju, Dongmun is an open-air street market, night market and seafood market all in one area, making it one of the island's most popular tourist destinations. First opened in 1945, Dongmun market was actually originally located in a slightly different area from where it is today, as the original structure burnt down in 1954 due to a large fire breaking out, but it was quickly rebuilt elsewhere and has remained in place ever since.

The 300 stalls at Dongmun, which are dotted across various winding streets, sell both ready-to-eat street food and fresh ingredients. Expect plenty of fresh and cooked seafood, with octopus proving particularly popular on the island as well as all sorts of traditional Korean goods, both sweet and savoury.

Tongin market, Seoul

Dating all the way back to 1941 when it was set up for Seoul’s Japanese residents when South Korea was still under Japanese rule, Tongin market was converted into a street food market after the Korean war. Nowadays it consists of around seventy-five different food stalls, all selling various different classic dishes.

What makes visiting Tongin market particularly unique though is its special lunchtime offering known as yeopjeon dosirak, which translates as ‘brass-coin lunchbox’. Visitors can buy a bunch of special brass coins called yeopjeon at the entrance of the market and will also be given a disposable lunch box. They can then use these coins as currency to fill up the sections of their lunchbox with food from all the different stalls; think dakgangjeong chicken in one section, mayak gimbap in another and perhaps a hotteok to finish.