|Raw beef & live octopus at Gwangjang Market, also known as yukhoe / sannakji|
Heya folks! I’ll be writing a series of travel blog posts on a couple of destinations I’ve been to of late: Namely focusing on Seoul and Taiwan, two hotspots for tourism and sightseeing in Asia! These blog posts will be coming in little segments as I get around to documenting them all, so please be patient with me while I get them done bit by bit!
I spent my second week of 2016 in Seoul, Korea with my oldest friend, Tammi (who also writes at TeaforTammi, her very own space dedicated to food, beauty and photography) – We’ve known each other for 17 years and counting! It was a very well-spent vacation catching up with a dear girlfriend, as well as enjoying a good time together exploring Seoul; eating, shopping and sight-seeing!
Now, this was my fourth time in Seoul, but the very first time I went free and easy for an entire week! Without a fixed itinerary in mind, we kept a very relaxed schedule that allowed us to experience Seoul leisurely and still have time for ample rest – No hectic early mornings for us this time round. I felt that this was also my most enjoyable trip to Seoul, despite having to brave the subzero winter temperatures, ranging from 0 deg to -9 deg on most days.
We opted to stay in an Airbnb apartment as I’ve been doing frequently for my travels. Here’s the view from our Airbnb apartment located near Seoul Station – Get $40 credit for your Airbnb accommodation if you sign up for AirBnB via my referral link here!
Gorgeous morning light as we left our apartment, all bundled up, to head out to Gwangjang Market, one of the oldest traditional markets in Seoul! (Spot my banana milk in hand, it’s a cult favourite with both tourists and locals alike in Korea!)
Gwangjang Traditional Market
Gwangjang Market 광장시장
88, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
General stores: 8:30am – 6:00pm
Restaurants: 8:30am -11:00pm
Clothing stores: 9pm – 10am next day
Directions for subway:
Jongno 5-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 1), Exit 8
Euljiro 4-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 2 & 5), Exit 4
Gwangjang Market is well-known as one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in the nation. While locals visit Gwangjang Market for silk goods, linen and fabric shopping, both locals and tourists enjoy Gwangjang for its huge variety of traditional Korean street food!
Ranging from the nondescript mungbean pancakes to the much more intimidating raw beef tartare and live octopus, it’s any gastronomic foodie’s kind of adventure!
We took the subway line to Gwangjang Market and got there easily enough. It was close to noon time and the market was already crowded with both locals and tourists. We walked through a small alley with a row of small restaurants, most of them with tanks of live octopuses and pictures of raw beef tartare on display, before entering a larger street where Korean ajumas were hawking pans upon pans of pickled produce, seafood and dried goods.
It was quite an overwhelming experience for all senses involved! You could smell the pungent tang of pickled produce and seafood mingled with the distinct aroma of hot cooked food and frying oil. Human chatter and bustling activity filled every corner of the dimly-lit market.
Dried fish just hanging out for sale.
Cured/pickled crabs – Tammi enjoyed these delicacies so much!
Lots of different kinds of kimchi and pickled vegetables waiting to be bought!
This old man was building a little fort made out of grilled rice cakes on a make-shift stove.
There was also all sorts of strange foods for sale and those little brown bits there are…. bug larvae if I’m not mistaken! Yikes.
Popular Korean foods and snacks like seaweed, ginseng, or even the currently trending honey butter nuts can be found at Gwangjang Market too.
Don’t be shy to ask for a sampling portion if you’re keen on buying anything, the Korean shopkeepers will readily allow you to taste everything they have to offer.
Tammi bought all kinds of kimchi and pickled food to try, and we got to hide from the cold for a bit while the shop vendor was packing up her order nicely for her. I was real impressed with this board I spotted in the shop – Check out all those translations in English and Mandarin!
Walk further down and you’ll discover the food street of Gwangjang Market, which is probably the most crowded part of the market! You’ll be overwhelmed by stalls upon stalls of food, all packed with customers trying to get a taste of authentic Korean street food.
Gwangjang Market is famous for these mungbean pancakes or bindaetteok, and they are HUGE! These pancakes are made by soaking and grinding mungbeans before deep frying them in a patty, along with ingredients like meat and vegetables.
We gave them a miss because they were simply too big and we wanted to spend our calories and stomach space on other food. Hahaha.
The Koreans are really big on eating all kinds of offal (animal parts) ranging from lungs to intestines to stomachs.. You get the idea. Those long dark-colored sausages on the left above are Soondae, Korean blood sausage that is said to be very nutritious and healthy.
We finally found a couple of seats at a stall and got ourselves seated. You can only order from whichever stall you’re seated at, and if you’re not sure what they have on the menu, ask for an english menu, which most of them will have.
I had to have something piping hot in the -6 deg weather, so I opted for this bowl of Banquet Noodles, which in my opinion was pretty mediocre. The noodles were soft without that springy texture and the soup wasn’t particularly flavourful.
Tammi had a plate of marinated pork rind and this bowl of strange gelatinous looking noodle that came cold. Interesting, but not my sort of thang really.
This though, looked really good and we decided we had to order ourselves a plate of marinated pork intestines!
I liked these, they were well-marinated with a sweet and spicy flavour and had such a tender texture!
Don’t forget to order a plate of spicy rice cake in a sweet red chilli sauce, also known as tteokbokki! It’s one of my favourite Korean street foods and totally hits the spot especially in cold weather.
For the sweet-toothed, you’ll love these freshly made hotteok, a sweet Korean pancake filled with caramelised brown sugar. It’s an absolute treat with its fragrant, fluffy dough and molten filling!
This chewy pastry was another random find – A variety of Korean doughnut that’s made of a mochi glutinous rice flour and then coated in cinnamon and sugar, it was addictively good!
There’s so much food to try at Gwangjang Market, so go forth and let your tastebuds do the exploring!
Yukhoe & Sannakji – Raw Beef Tatare & Live Octopus
If you’re a bold adventure-goer seeking after thrilling eats like the famed Korean raw beef tartare and live octopus, you won’t be disappointed at Gwangjang Market!
Yukhoe is raw beef tartare, usually lightly marinated and adorned with a raw egg yolk. Sannakji is raw live octopus, served fresh.
We walked into a random crowded restaurant along one of the smaller alleys near Exit 10 of the train station – known as Yukhoe Alley and got ourselves seated! My courageous girlfriend Tammi had her sights set on tasting raw beef tartare, and since we saw a dish comprising of both raw beef tartare and octopus, we enthusiastically thought, “why not”?
It wasn’t until a Korean ajuma unceremoniously plunked down a big plate of raw beef with suspicious-looking octopus bits on it before we realised what we had just ordered… Not just raw octopus, but LIVE raw octopus.
NICE. Looking at the squirming tentacles really did it for me. It was a major EWWWWW moment! I was repulsed by the mere fact that the octopus parts were still wriggling and writhing on the plate. Yucks.
That look on your girlfriend’s face when she’d just unwittingly brought it upon herself to take on a Fear Factor level kind of food challenge… Priceless.
We did what any other human being would have done if put in our shoes – Wait for the octopus bits to “die” and stop moving about so much. LOL.
A good ten to fifteen minutes later, Tammi finally mustered the courage to start eating the raw beef AND live octopus.. The verdict?
Tammi: “Well…. the octopus is really fresh.”
Me: “….DUH OF COURSE IT’S FRESH IT’S STILL MOVING?!”
Chicken me only tried the raw beef tartare because… Moving octopus… Just, No.
It was chewier than I expected because I’ve only ever had European-style beef carpaccio, but the taste wasn’t bad at all! Something off the bucket list at least, eh? Nonetheless, this meal was most definitely the highlight of the day and an unforgettable gastronomic experience.
Food aside, you can also head to the other sections of Gwangjang Market (as well as the upper storeys of the market) to look at quality silk goods, bedding, fabric, hanbok, kitchenware and apparel. Prices are inexpensive, too!
Without a doubt, Gwangjang Market is one of the places you ought to check out! I’ll be sharing more interesting places in Seoul to shop, eat and explore shortly so do check back regularly or subscribe to my feed (link on my side bar!)
WiFi Device – Happi.Fi
I stayed connected in Seoul with Happi.Fi – Quote “PMYINA” for 20% off your wifi rental!
They’ve got super good prices for wifi rental to lots of countries, and I love that the device is so sleek and small! Fits in even my smallest bag. (There are different devices for different countries – Do take note.) Each device can connect up to five users with no problem. They also thoughtfully provide a travel adaptor that charges USB ports as well as a mobile power bank – Super convenient!
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