Gwangjang Market’s Jeon Alley, Yukhoe Alley & Mayak Gimbap Alley
Established in 1905, Gwangjang Market (also known as KwangJang Market) is one of Korea’s largest traditional markets as well as Korea’s oldest market with over 100 years of history. Although Gwangjang Market is not as well known as Namdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Market among tourists, it is heralded by locals as the place to go for quality silk goods, bedding, fabric, hanbok, kitchenware and clothing sold at both wholesale and retail prices. But of the various things that Gwangjang Market is famous for, the thing that brings crowds of people every week is the food. You can eat a number of delicious items at the market including hoe (회; raw fish or sashimi), juk (죽; porridge), sundaeguk (순대국; blood sausage soup), bibimbap (비빔밥), tteokbokki (떡볶이; stir-fried rice cakes) and more. It is due to the plethura of finger-licking good food that the market is always busy, no matter what the weather or the day of the week. You really can’t go wrong with any of the food that is offered here, but the three dishes that you absolutely can not miss trying are jeon, yukhoe and mayak gimbap. These dishes are so popular that they each have their own “food alleys” dedicated to them!
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The most popular dish at Jeon Alley is bindaetteok!
What is Jeon? Jeon (전), buchimgae (부침개), jijimgae (지짐개), or jijim (지짐) refer to many pancake-like dishes in Korean cuisine. Jeon is made by mixing various ingredients such as sliced meats, poultry, seafood, and vegetables depending on the style, with rice or wheat flour batter (sometimes also coated with egg batter) and then pan-frying with oil. Jeon is commonly eaten as an appetizer, as banchan (반찬; side dishes), or as anju (안주; food that is eaten while drinking alcoholic beverages). Jeon is often paired with makgeolli (막걸리; traditional rice liquor), especially on rainy days.
What is Bindaetteok?
What is Nokdu?
“Nokdu” refers to mung beans. Mung beans are a great health food, providing protein without the saturated fat or trans fat that comes with meat. Mung beans are also a rich source of fiber and vitamin C; provide significant quantities of natural iron, riboflavin, folate, copper and manganese; and contain moderate amounts of thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
|What is Makgeolli? Makgeolli (막걸리) is a traditional rice liquor native to Korea and is about 6.5 – 7% alcohol by volume. It is made by fermenting a mixture of steamed glutinous rice, barley or wheat with water and nuruk (누룩; a type of yeast). Unlike other traditional clear liquors like soju (소주) or cheongju (청주), makgeolli is not distilled after fermentation, giving it a unique, opaque and milky off-white color. Because makgeolli is fermented and unfiltered it is known as a healthy drink rich in fiber, protein and lactic acid bacteria, a type of healthy bacteria that regulates digestion.|
The biggest of the three food alleys is Jeon Alley, running a length of about 30 meters starting from the entrance of the market. Although this may sound quite long for such a humble food alley, several stores and stalls are crammed in along the length of it, making the idea of personal space a laughable matter. But regardless of the fact that eating here means being crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, there won’t be a single person in the whole lot with a scowl on their face. And that’s because their mouths are too busy happily munching away at bindaetteok and other varieties of jeon, or too busy gulping down bowls full of makgeolli. The combination of jeon and makgeolli is so universally enjoyed you’ll see all kinds of people eating here. Office workers looking to de-stress and grab a bite to eat on the way home to students on a budget, from foreigners and tourists looking to try a taste of real Korea to ajummas and ajusshis re-fueling their energy after a day of hiking, Jeon Alley is popular with people of all ages and all backgrounds.
Ajummas working hard at frying up some bindaetteok!
Grinding up mung beans to make bindaetteok!
In front of every stall or restaurant in Jeon Alley is a cast iron hot plate, and behind every cast iron hot plate is a hard-working ajumma, frying up bindaetteok or some other jeon variety. You’ll know if a certain establishment specializes in bindaetteok because in addition to this set-up, there will also be an ajumma making bindaetteok batter from scratch; diligently grinding nokdu (녹두; mung beans) by hand and mixing in homemade kimchi and homemade seasoned vegetables along the way.
Griddling bindaetteok until they’re golden-brown!
|Left) Dipping bindaetteok in a sauce made of ganjang (Korean soy sauce) and onions! | Right) Jeon’s favorite companion, makgeolli|
No matter whether you’re someone who’s had jeon before or not, your mouth will begin to salivate the moment the bindaetteok plate hits your table. Even though you might think bindaetteok will be super greasy and oily because it’s fried in oil, you’ll be surprised at how crunchy and light it is. And don’t forget to order a plate of gogi jeon (고기전; meat pancake) on the side! The meat in gogi jeon is usually very thinly sliced, but for only 2,000 won it’s definitely worth it! And be sure to dip the bindaetteok in the sauce that comes with it. It’s made of ganjang (간장; Korean soy sauce) and onions, and it goes very well with bindaetteok. Kimchi is always served on the side of course! Last but not least, a meal of bindaetteok is never complete without a bottle of makgeolli. The light, refreshing taste of this alcoholic beverage perfectly balances out the greasy deliciousness of bindaetteok!
|1||Buchu Jeon (부추전)||Jeon made with leeks|
|2||Haemul Pajeon (해물파전)||Jeon made with seafood and green onions|
|3||Kimchi Jeon (김치전)||Jeon made with kimchi|
|4||Sanjeok (산적)||Essentially a Korean shish kebab; skewered vegetables and meat|
|5||Gochu Jeon (고추전)||Jeon made of green chili peppers stuffed with minced meat and vegetables|
|6||Donggeurangddaeng (동그랑땡)||Jeon made of savory patties made of vegetables, tofu and meat|
|7||Gajami Jeon (가자미전)||Jeon made with halibut|
|8||Dongtae Jeon (동태전)||Jeon made with pollack|
|9||Hobak Jeon (호박전)||Jeon made with squash (zucchini / courgette)|
|10||Sosiji Jeon (소시지전)||Jeon made with sausages|
|11||Jangtteok (장떡)||Jeon made of gochujang, doenjang and various vegetables|
|12||Heopa Jeon (허파전)||Jeon made with cow lung|
|13||Gamja Jeon (감자전)||Jeon made with potatoes|
|14||Yachae Jeon (야채전)||Jeon made with various vegetables|
|15||Pyogo Jeon (표고전)||Jeon made with pyogo (shiitake) mushrooms|
*No. 1 – 3 are only sold individually for about 6,000 won – 8,000 won each
*No. 4 – 13 are usually sold as a plate of modeum jeon (모듬전; a plate of jeon in which you can pick out which the varieties of jeon you want) for about 8,000 won – 15,000 won, depending on the the size you order. (Sizes come in small, medium and large).
Price: Bindaetteok 4,000 – 5,000 won / Gogi Jeon 2,000 won / Modeum Jeon 7,000 – 10,000 won / Makgeolli 3,000 won
Hours: 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. (Weekends until 9 p.m.)
Takeaway: Bindaetteok and other varieties of jeon are available for takeaway
How to Get There
Take subway line 1 to Jongno 5(o)-ga Station and go out exit 9. Gwangjang Market’s main entrance will be right in front of you. Jeon Alley starts right at the entrance to the market.
What is Yukhoe?Yukhoe is essentially Korean steak tartare. It is a variety of hoe (회; raw dishes in Korean cuisine) made from raw ground beef seasoned with various spices or sauces, usually soy sauce, sugar, salt, sesame oil, spring onions, minced garlic, sesame seeds, black pepper and julienned bae (배; Korean pear). A raw egg yolk is usually added, served either on top of the dish or separately on the side, and pine nuts may be added as well. Yukhoe is most commonly eaten as an anju (안주; dishes that accompany alcoholic beverages).
Yukhoe Alley in Gwangjang Market is definitely not as big as Jeon Alley; it consists of only 5 or so restaurants clustered together. That might not seem like much, but its the quality of the food that draws crowds of people here. The restaurants here use only the freshest, premium quality cuts of beef, unlike many other yukhoe restaurants that use previously frozen beef. In order to guarantee only the freshest cuts of beef to their customers, these restaurant owners wake up at the crack of dawn to buy their meat directly from cattle markets and prepare the meat themselves. It is due to their diligence and desire to serve the best quality food that this alley sees hordes of people on the weekends.
Delicious beef radish soup
You might find yourself waiting around for a while for the food to come out due to the popularity of these restaurants, but no worries! You can temporarily satisfy your hunger with a bowl of beef radish soup, free of charge. This soup is commonly served in Korean homes alongside a bowl of rice and several dishes of banchan, but in Yukhoe Alley it is served as an appetizer!
You can eat yukhoe and yukhoe bibimbap at the same time!
Yukhoe is typically served on a bed of julienned bae (Korean pear) and with an egg yolk and sesame seeds sprinkled on top. The best way to eat yukhoe is by dipping it in the sauce that comes with it, a mixture of sesame oil, salt and sometimes pepper. The servings are generous enough that you should feel full at the end, but if you still have some room, order a bowl of yukhoe bibimbap! Much like regular bibimbap, yukhoe bibimbap comes out as a bowl of rice with various vegetables on top, but in this case, with lots of yukhoe as well! It’s hard to believe how cheap this dish is (only 6,000 won!) for the amount of yukhoe you get!
|Left) Yukhoe bibimbap that has more yukhoe than rice! | Right) Dipping yukhoe into a sauce made of salt and sesame oil.|
Prices: Yukhoe 12,000 won / Yukhoe bibimbap 6,000 won / 간, 천엽 10,000 won
Open: 9 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Takeaway: Yukhoe is available for takeaway
How to Get There
Take subway line 1 to Jongno 5(o)-ga Station and go out exit 10. The alley is located between the two pharmacies; Gukje Yakguk (국제약국) and Ujeong Yakguk (우정약국).
Changshin Yukhoe (창신 육회)
Also on the menu: grilled pork, pork skins
Darae Sikdang (다래식당)
Also on the menu: samgyeopsal (삽겹살; grilled pork belly)
Gwangjang Yukhoe (광장 육회)
Also on the menu: daegutang (대구탕; codfish soup), agujjim (아구찜; spicy monkfish), saengtae jjigae (생태찌개; pollack stew)
What is Gimbap?
Gimbap (김밥) is a popular favorite with both Koreans and foreigners. Gimbap is often eaten during picnics or outdoor events, or as a light lunch. The basic components of gimbap are bap (밥; cooked rice); meat or other protein-rich ingredients; a large variety of vegetables, pickled, roasted or fresh; and gim (김; sheets of dried laver). Traditionally, the rice is lightly seasoned with salt and sesame oil. Popular protein ingredients are odeng (오뎅; fish cakes), imitation crab meat, eggs, and/or seasoned beef rib-eye. Vegetables usually include cucumbers, spinach, carrots, ueong (우엉; burdock root) and danmuji (단무지; pickled radish). After the gimbap has been rolled in gim, it is usually brushed with sesame oil and/or sprinkled with sesame seeds then sliced into bite-size pieces. It is typically served with danmuji (단무지; pickled radish) or kimchi.
So why is this alley called “Mayak Gimbap Alley” instead of just “Gimbap Alley”? Well “mayak” (마약) means narcotics, or drugs, in Korean. In Korea, when something is so delicious that you find yourself looking to eat it again and again like an addiction, the word “mayak” is added to the food’s name when referring to it. This word usage started relatively recently in popular culture, but perhaps it all started from the name of this alley seeing as though this food alley has been around for over 40 years! Like Yukhoe Alley, Mayak Gimbap Alley is very small, made up of about 5 restaurants or so. But as the name of the alley suggests, the food is so addictive people always come back for more!
For some, seeing a plate of mayak gimbap for the first time may be a disappointing experience. From the outside, mayak gimbap doesn’t appear any different from any other gimbap. In fact, mayak gimbap looks even less exciting than regular gimbap because it usually only comes with the very basic ingredients of rice, carrots, spinach and danmuji. But all traces of doubt will disappear the moment you take your first bite. Because although the ingredients are very simple, they are packed with loads of flavor. And for an extra kick, dip the mayak gimbap into some spicy mustard sauce! You probably won’t be thinking about eating any more mayak gimbap once you’re stuffed full, but believe me, there will come a time when you can’t stop thinking about it, and like an addiction you’ll be coming back for more!
Price: 2,500 won
How to Get There
Take subway line 1 to Jongno 5(o)-ga Station and go out exit 11. Walk towards Jongno 4-ga Rotary, going around the outside of Gwangjang Market, and enter the market through the second west gate (광장시장 서2문). You should see a sign for Mayak Gimbap Alley.