A bunch of us went to the markets this weekend, and by markets I mean Traditional Korean Markets – as these are not to be confused with modern day shopping malls ala King of Prussia. It was very interesting to say the least. Many of you would be familiar with the scenery if you have ever been to one of the following:
- Flea Market
- Dirt Mall (Mallrats anyone?)
- Craft Fair
- “Cowtown” (for those of you from Salem County, NJ)
My first thoughts went to the possibility of getting a lot of imported goods at ROCK BOTTOM PRICES (I know you read that in your Crazy Eddie voice). I had read extensively on the Korean custom of bargaining but was utterly disappointed when no one was willing to haggle with me at all.
The first market we stopped by is called Bongdeok Market and it is located very close to the U.S. Army base Camp Walker. It was a very small market (by comparison to our second stop) and it was rumored to have a lot of black market goods – I was secretly hoping to find a cheap iHome (alarm clock for my iPod). We wandered the alleys extensively, through the maze of passages and stores, but were unable to find anything decent. Most of the market was ingredients for cooking (and most of the market smelled like dead fish).
Our second stop was Seomun Market which is probably twenty times the size of Bongdeok. This was quite the sight to behold; vendors in the streets, indoors, and even between the many streets and buildings. They sell food, clothes, fabric, blankets and rugs, jewelry, shoes, chests and ornately carved wooden boxes and kitchenware, china, clocks, baby gear, and more food. There were hundreds of people shopping and hundreds of places from which to choose. In a word: huge.
In addition to purchasing ingredients for your own cooking, there were small eateries nestled in the middle of the thoroughfares and as people passed by at rapid (or sometimes meandering) paces, others contently and with company remained eating for an entire meal. However, most of us just waited in line to purchase a quick snack. One of these vendors made a wonderful treat often found in fairs and amusement parks called Hoddeok.
I was fortunate enough to wait in line to try some of this delightful snack food. I can honestly tell you that it was the best thing I’ve eaten since I’ve been here (another article is coming about the popular Korean food). Hoddeok is basically a pancake stuffed a variety of ingredients. Typically they have brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts so that when the pancake is heated up, the inner parts congeal and liquify creating a type of syrup. The vendors were a husband and wife team who were rather busy all afternoon (and rightly so)! Hoddeok can also be stuffed with cheese (recipes may be found online).
As for what I ended up buying and taking home, I shopped around for a bath mat and a few other small household items but all I actually came away with was a silicon cooking spatula (Mom got me hooked on these – they won’t melt!!!). It was $6,000 SKW (Won) which is roughly $5.25. The cost of many things in Korea is marginal but there is a lot that is overpriced by U.S. standards. I’m not sure what a non-melty silicon spatula costs at home but I’m hoping they’re about $5.25.
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Until next time…