With a seemingly infinite number of vendors serving up street treats such as hotteok (stuffed pancake), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), and odeng (fish cake), Seoul is essentially an open-air restaurant in itself. Cheap, hearty, and delicious, Korean street food is a must-try on any visit to the city, but if you’re looking for diversity and accessibility, these are some of the best places to sample it.
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 favorite. These sushi-like, seaweed-wrapped rolls are stuffed with carrot, pickled daikon radish, and rice seasoned with sesame oil, and are as addicting as their name (which literally means ‘narcotic rice roll’) suggests. Other Gwangjang specialties include bindaetteok, a savory pancake made from ground mung beans, various vegetables and meat, and makgeolli, an icy spirit made from rice.
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-organized 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 food trucks serving up tasty treats ranging from Koreanized 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 might be one of Seoul’s most popular shopping districts, but it’s also a go-to for foodies looking to try the country’s most unique and innovative street foods. Here, throngs of tourists crowd around countless carts to gorge on a wide variety of sweets and treats. In addition to the classics, visitors can enjoy dishes such as grilled lobster, fried milk, baked cheese skewers, tteokgalbi meatballs, strawberry mochi, and fresh pomegranate juice, among others. Remember to bring cash, as credit cards are not accepted at these stalls.
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 visitors 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 on the weekends, when small concerts are held for the entertainment of shoppers.
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 revitalized thanks to its Doshirak Café, where you can get a lunchbox to fill with whichever market snacks you’d like for just 5,000 won (about $5.00). Foods on offer include tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), pajeon (savory pancakes), dumplings, and a wide variety of kimchi, among others.
With more than 26 shopping malls, 30,000 specialty shops, and 50,000 manufacturers, Dongdaemun is the center 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 ‘til you drop at 3 o’clock in the morning. 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 like mandu (dumplings) and sundae (blood sausage) as well as international-inspired fare like burgers and tator-tot-coated corndogs. It’s truly the perfect mix of fashion, fun, and flavor.
Tteokbokki – chewy, cylinder-shaped rice cakes drowned in a spicy red pepper sauce – is without a doubt the most representative street food of 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 favorite Korean comfort food. In addition to offering the classic dish, many restaurants here offer twists on the original, utilizing a wide variety of sauces and ingredients such as cellophane noodles, seafood, eggs, and cheese. There are countless places to eat here, but local favorites include Mabongnim Halmeoni Tteokbokki, I Love Sindangdong, and Jongjeom.
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 jewelry, 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, where a variety of Korean classics are 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.