With over ten thousand stores within this store, there’s a reason why people say: “If you can’t find it in Namdaemun, you can’t find it in Seoul.” This is a retail market during the day but it turns into a wholesale market at night. Dish wholesalers, children’s clothing stores, glass shops and mountain-climbing equipment stores grab people’s attention. When it comes to food, braised cutlassfish and kalguksu noodles are the best. Braised cutlassfish alley was formed around 1988, while kalguksu noodle alley was created right after the Korean War. Restaurants here are so famous that it’s hard to find a place that wasn’t introduced to the masses through TV shows and news articles.
Braised cutlassfish served in a brass bowl is appetizing. And Hoerak is one of the first restaurants to witness the start of this old alley. Most of the restaurants here are 20 to 50 years old, so you can count on their food. But we decided to eat here because they didn’t stand outside yelling, “Seats available inside!” We ordered our food and got huge chunks of radish with cutlassfish on top. We first had some rice with this tasty fish and then mixed the rice with spicy seasoning and well-cooked radish, which goes perfectly with dried seaweed. Yum!
Mangwon Market is famous among young people thanks to Rose Motel’s band member Yuk Jung-wan who stars in the TV show, I Live Alone. But even before the show, this market was well known among locals from this densely populated neighborhood. Vegetables and fruits are especially cheap here—you can buy two apples for just 1,000 won. It’s not far from Mangwon Subway Station and from here it only takes 15 minutes to get to Mangwon Hangang Park on foot. Inside the market, people wait in line in front of famous eateries and prices are cheap as well. You can get meals and snacks within a budget of 10,000 won. World Cup Market is across from Mangwon Market.
While many restaurants in this alley can claim originality, this restaurant is arguably one of the most creative when it comes to flavors. When first presented with a serving of chicken in a washbasin sized brass bowl with a side of water cabbage kimchi, you’ll think, “That’s it?” That is, until you taste it. The chicken is boiled with garlic and rice cakes, while the kimchi’s made with a special combination of soybean sauce, vinegar and mustard. And to finish it all off? Add kalguksu to the mix.
“How can a mackerel possibly taste so soft and tender?” I ask in shocked delight. Honam Jip, which opened in 1974, is the oldest restaurant in this alley. The fish is cooked to perfection as the owner cooks them on low heat, flipping each of them three to five times. You don’t need to have anything else with it, but eating it with boiled rice makes it even better. There are six types of fish you can choose from but mackerel, cutlassfish, imyeonsu (atka mackerel), and samchi (Spanish mackerel) are the most popular.
Built together with the Jugong Apartment Complex in Jamsil, Saemaeul Market used to be one of the best markets in the Gangnam area. Paopao is famous for their shrimp dumplings. Thin, semitransparent dumpling skins are wrapped around delicious shrimp stuffing. You can also find a lot of sweet and sour chicken places here. Kim Panjo Restaurant and Color Bunsik are two well-known restaurants. Having opened not too long ago, Kim Panjo’s quite the talked about place at the moment, but you will have to wait in line for more than 30 minutes before you can place an order.
Donam Market, located in Seongbuk-gu was first established in the 1970s. Famous restaurants from Donam Market have been around for a very long time. Taejo Gamjaguk Restaurant is considered to have invented gamjatang (pork back bone stew). It’s located right next to the northern gate of the market and is 58 years old. For three generations, customers have been in love with this place. The smallest serving is called jotta (tastes good) and costs 11,000 won. Don’t forget to drop by Obaekjip restaurant. This jokbal (pork hocks) place has stood here for about 40 years.