광장시장 (Gwangjang market) is a prime location in Seoul for eating various Korean foods. Do not expect to find strict hygiene standards or to seat on a nice chair; you will, however, be surprised by the food offerings in the market. From 육회 (shredded raw beef) to 빈대떡 (mungbean pancake), 광장시장 does not disappoint. This post lists the most popular foods to eat in 광장시장 Gwangjang market, as well as some tips to have the best experience while navigating the numerous stalls and restaurants.
Top 3 Emblematic Foods of 광장시장
육회 (肉膾) Yukhoe or Shredded Raw Meat
육회 is one of the three emblematic foods of 광장시장. 육회, as sold in this market, is shredded raw beef served with an egg yolk on top of Korean pear. The dish comes with salted sesame oil; dip the meat in it to enhance the flavor even more. Because 육회 has to be extremely fresh and is easily contaminated if improperly handled, prefer eating it at the restaurants of the market rather than the food stalls in the middle of the alleys. At least one restaurant, 부촌육회, is in the Seoul Michelin guide; I, however, prefer 창신육회 for the more authentic experience (poor seating but cheaper and almost as good). Most restaurants in 광장시장 also offer 육사시미 (beef sashimi) and 육회낙지탕탕이 (live octopus 낙지탕탕이 mixed with shredded raw beef, see 아재입맛 for a picture and of 낙지탕탕이), but I advise against ordering these items as they are pricier than 육회, unless you are confident enough and trust the restaurant. Pair 육회 with 막걸리.
빈대떡 Mung Bean Pancake
Staple of 광장시장, 빈대떡 is made from grinded mung beans with vegetables and sometimes meat. The pancake batter is then fried and served with a dipping sauce (usually vinegar, soy sauce, onions). 빈대떡 in 광장시장 are either pre-made and therefore re-heated/refried (like in the picture above), or cooked to order. Rare are the food stalls in the middle of the alleys that cook 빈대떡 to order, as it takes a significant amount of time. If you want a fresh 빈대떡, try the restaurants bordering the alleys (but not all restaurants cook to order; ask before sitting down). Like 육회 (and most foods in the market), pair 빈대떡 with 막걸리.
마약김밥 Mayak-kimbap, or Drug Kimbap
마약김밥 is, with 육회 and 빈대떡, a must-eat food in 광장시장. 마약김밥 are thin 김밥 (vegetables and rice rolled in dried seaweed) dipped in a sauce made of mustard and soy sauce. The reason it is called 마약김밥 (마약 means "drug" in Korean) is that its addicting flavor makes it hard to stop eating it. While it is sold in almost every stall in 광장시장, not every 마약김밥 is equal. As downing several rolls of 마약김밥 is far from difficult, try one roll at several places to make your own opinion, and stick to your favorite stall. Stalls with the biggest lines do not necessarily have the best 마약김밥, so try smaller stalls first. If 마약김밥 is not served with its sauce, ask for it (although that is in most cases a red flag).
Other 광장시장 Foods
Other popular foods in the market include 꼼장어 (hagfish) and 순대 (pig blood sausage). You can also find 떡볶이 (spicy rice cake), 오뎅 (fish cake), and other typical Korean street foods, but they rarely taste out of the ordinary in this market. Skip these and stick to the trio 육회 + 빈대떡 + 마약김밥.
Accessing 광장시장 Gwangjang Market
Many buses stop in the vicinity of the market; you can use the following address: 서울특별시 종로구 종로32길 2, or this Naver Map link to find the best bus itinerary from your location. Learn about the different types of buses in Seoul before heading to 광장시장.
By subway: 종로5가역 (Jongno 5-ga Station) (line 1) exits 7 or 9
While several websites including Wikipedia list 을지로4가역 (lines 2 and 5) as a station close to 광장시장, 을지로4가역 is very far from the food part of the market. Prefer exiting at 종로5가역 (line 1) exits 7 or 9 (exit 9 does not show up on Google Maps as it corresponds to an exit within the underground mall; signs in the station will guide you there). Learn about Korean subways.
Tell your taxi driver to drop you off at 종로5가 사거리 (Jongno 5-ga intersection) or give the following address: 서울특별시 종로구 종로32길 2 (front of one of the entrances to the food part of the market). It is usually easy to get a taxi around the market.
- Ahjummas and grandmas will do whatever it takes to get more customers. Do not interact with them unless you want to eat at their stalls.
- The number of people waiting or eating at a food stall or a restaurant is nowhere indicative of food quality. Some places with huge lines are passable, some okay food stalls may have a couple of people there because the owner is a savvy rhetorician, and some great food stalls may be empty because you came at the touristy hours (midday) instead of when the regulars show up (mornings, evenings).
- For the reason outlined in the previous bullet point, prefer going in the morning (around 11 am) or later in the evening (after 8 pm).
- While this sometimes fails, one of the most useful tricks is to look for stalls where the customers are middle-aged Korean men. This tip works especially well for 육회, 빈대떡, and other 아재입맛 foods, less so for 마약김밥.
- Most food stalls and restaurants have two types of 막걸리: an inferior one for tourists and a superior one for Koreans; however they both retail at the same price. This deceptive practice has been going on for a while, with 막걸리 names changing over the years. When the waiter brings your 막걸리 bottle, look at tables with Korean customers to see if the bottle is the same; if not, politely ask for the same 막걸리 as the other tables before the bottle gets opened.
- A few restaurants do not have restrooms, but there are a few public lavatories available in the market. If you plan on using these, I suggest bringing toilet paper, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer, as soap can be missing and water sometimes not running.