The Best Places to Try Street Food in Seoul

Food stalls like Gwangjang Market are not to be missed during a stay in Seoul
Food stalls like Gwangjang Market are not to be missed during a stay in Seoul | © Paul Brown / Alamy Stock Photo
Mimsie Ladner

With an apparently infinite number of vendors serving up street treats such as hotteok (stuffed pancake), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and odeng (fish cake), Seoul is essentially one big open-air restaurant. Cheap, hearty and delicious, Seoul street food is a must-try on any visit to the capital of South Korea – but if you’re looking for diversity and accessibility, these are some of the best places to sample it. Visit Seoul and explore Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village and more with a Local Insider on Culture Trip’s 10-day small-group adventure to South Korea.

Gwangjang Market (광장시장)

Food on display at Gwangjang Market in Seoul, South Korea.

If you love Korean cuisine, don’t miss out on eating your way through Seoul’s century-old Gwangjang Market. As one of the oldest continually functioning markets in all of South Korea, it’s a great place to soak up the nation’s traditional culture and sample its gastronomic goodies, all in one place. Of all the foods the market is famous for, mayak kimbap has to be the crowd favourite. These sushi-like, seaweed-wrapped rolls are stuffed with carrot, pickled daikon radish and rice seasoned with sesame oil, and are as addictive as their name (which literally means “narcotic rice roll”) suggests. Other Gwangjang specialties include bindaetteok, a savoury pancake made from ground mung beans, various vegetables and meat, and makgeolli, an icy spirit made from rice.

Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market (서울 밤도깨비 야시장)

For food, festivities, and a whole lot of outdoor fun, the Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market is the place to be. Held on Friday and Saturday evenings from March to October at the Yeouido Hangang Park and Banpo Hangang Park along the Han River, the city-organised market is a great place to shop for unique handmade accessories by local artists, watch a concert and (most importantly) delve into the city’s budding food truck culture. With more than 50 trucks serving up tasty treats ranging from Koreanised tacos and steak-in-a-cup to lobster rolls and Cuban sandwiches, you’re sure to find something to please your palate. Get there early, as the lines do get long.

Myeongdong Street Food Alley

Myeongdong might be one of Seoul’s most popular shopping districts, but it’s also a go-to for foodies looking to try the most unique and innovative street food in Seoul. Here, throngs of tourists crowd around countless carts to gorge on a wide variety of sweets and treats. In addition to the classics, you can enjoy dishes such as grilled lobster, fried milk, baked cheese skewers, tteokgalbi meatballs, strawberry mochi and fresh pomegranate juice, among other things. Remember to bring cash, as credit cards are not accepted at these stalls.

Common Ground (커먼그라운드)

Korea’s first pop-up store built with shipping containers, Common Ground has become one of Seoul’s coolest hangouts. Comprised of more than 200 large containers, the multipurpose complex boasts a number of trendy mid-sized shops selling a variety of wares by up-and-coming designers. It also attracts gourmands with its food offerings. In addition to its third-floor restaurant sprawl, Common Ground features a courtyard dedicated to four food trucks: Bold (meat bowls and buns), Space Bar (seasonal desserts and alcoholic beverages), the Coast (casual seafood) and Kimchi Bus (kimchi-based items). The outdoor dining experience is especially enjoyable at the weekends, when small concerts are held for the entertainment of shoppers.

Tongin Market (통인시장)

Food stalls and signs inside Tongin Market, Seoul, South Korea

Conveniently situated to the west of Gyeongbokgung Palace is Tongin Market, one of Seoul’s most charming traditional markets. While it may on first impression appear to be a typical market, it also doubles as an important historical landmark, as it was established for Japanese residents in 1941, when Korea was under Japanese rule. In recent years, its popularity has been revitalised thanks to its Dosirak Cafe, where you can get a lunchbox to fill with whichever market snacks you’d like for just ₩5,000 (£3.25). Foods on offer include tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), pajeon (savoury pancakes), dumplings and a wide variety of kimchi, among others.

Dongdaemun Night Market (동대문시장)

A couple shopping in the outdoor portion of Dongdaemun Night Market in Seoul

With more than 26 shopping malls, 30,000 specialty shops and 50,000 manufacturers, Dongdaemun is the centre for fashion lovers in Seoul. Not only does the sprawling market offer clothes and accessories at an affordable price, it also has some of the most unique items, as it’s home to many of the city’s aspiring designers. Open at just about any hour, Dongdaemun is one of the few places in the world where you can shop till you drop at 3am. Of course, there are also plenty of late-night snacks available to keep you going. For the tastiest, head to the areas of Gwanghui Market and Jeil Pyeonghwa Market. Here, vendors fry and grill the night away, cooking up Korean classics such as mandu (dumplings) and sundae (blood sausage) as well as internationally inspired fare including burgers and tater tot-coated corndogs. It’s truly the perfect mix of fashion, fun and flavour.

Sindang-dong Tteokbokki Town (신당동떡볶이골목)

Tteokbokki – a chewy, cylinder-shaped rice cake drowned in a spicy red pepper sauce – is without a doubt the most representative of street foods in Korea, as well as a must-try on any visit to the country. Perhaps there’s no better place to sample this specialty than Sindang-dong Tteokbokki Town, which is said to be the birthplace of today’s common gochujang version of the dish. Having been around since the 1970s, the sprawling cluster of tteokbokki joints has been the go-to for locals looking to relieve their stress by gorging on this favourite Korean comfort food. In addition to offering the classic dish, many restaurants here offer twists on the original, utilising a wide variety of sauces and ingredients such as cellophane noodles, seafood, eggs and cheese. There are countless places to eat here, but local favourites include Mabongnim Halmeoni Tteokbokki, I Love Sindangdong and Jongjeom.

Namdaemun Market (남대문시장)

Food plated and on display at a stall at the Namdaemun Market in Seoul

Dating back to the 1400s, Namdemun is not only Seoul’s oldest market, but is also its largest with more than 10,000 stalls, vendors and restaurants that line countless blocks of car-free streets. Whether you’re looking for jewellery, luggage, stationery, hiking gear, camera parts or traditional handicrafts, you’re sure to find what you seek and at an affordable price. Of course, no visit to Namdaemun Market is complete without sampling its cuisines. For a one-stop dining experience, make your way to the market’s Food Alley, a Korean food street where a variety of Korean classics is on offer. From steamed corn and dakkochi (chicken skewers) to the more adventurous sundae (blood sausage) and jokbal (pigs’ feet), there’s no shortage of tasty street treats here.

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