At Namdaemun Market, Part 1

Back to Seoul, back to Namdaemun Market. My first report from the market was of an excellent lunch in the market’s famous Kalguksu Alley. I ate there on the day of my second visit to the market. I visited the market on three consecutive days and ate lunch there on three consecutive days. Why didn’t I eat at Kalguksu Alley on the first day? Well, I couldn’t find it. On that first visit I was also unable to find the market’s other famous food “alley”: Hairtail Alley; the specialty here is galchi jorim or braised/stewed hairtail fish. The main reason I was unable to find these alleys is that I didn’t know what I was looking for. I’d not really done any research on the market and had lazily assumed that everything would be very visible. Well, the market itself is quite obviously visible but there’s no signage for the food alleys—you kind of have to know where you’re going and what you’re looking for. In my post on that Kalguksu Alley lunch, I told you how to find it; in this post I offer a broader look at the market and finally a look at Hairtail Alley, which I more or less accidentally found myself in while wandering around after lunch in Kalguksu Alley.

Namdaemun Market, as I said in the other post, is apparently Korea’s oldest and largest market. It takes up several large blocks and is both popular with tourists (mostly for food) and even more so frequented by locals—for food as well but also for all kinds of shopping, including groceries and meat and fish. I obviously did not do any food shopping on this trip but odds are very good that when I am back in Seoul next year with the whole family for a longer stay, we will do a bit of seafood shopping at Namdaemun Market. You’ll see a lot of fresh fish and seafood pictures in the large gallery that follows. It’s not that there are only a few meat or dry goods vendors. It’s just that—as those who’ve seen my market reports from Hong Kong, Goa and Delhi know—I have an affinity for seafood markets. And so I spent more time in this part of Namdaemun Market than in any other.

You will not get a sense from this gallery of the very large part of the market that does not involve food or ingredients in any way. You will also not get a sense of the presence of the cooked food vendors who line most of the main drag, alongside and in front of other stores. This latter cluster will be reported on separately along with the other meals I actually ate there on my first and third days at Namdaemun Market. That’ll be on Sunday, probably—it’s a pain in the ass, downloading, sorting, resizing and uploading so many pics. This gallery will seem excessive to you anyway but know it could have been much worse.

So to recap: what you will find here is 1) a general look at the market; 2) a look at the food ingredient sellers, with an emphasis on fish and seafood; 3) a look at Hairtail Alley. I did not eat at Hairtail Alley on this trip but provide these images as a service to anyone else who may be looking for it when in Seoul. It’s a much larger set-up than Kalguksu Alley and the reason I couldn’t find it is that I was expecting something much more contained than it actually is. And it’s not one alley but a network of alleys that intersect with each other. Rather than the chaotic jostling counters of Kalguksu Alley, there are small enclosed restaurants on both sides of each alley, while most/all of the cooking happens in the alley itself (which is covered by an informal roof). To find it, enter the market from the same side as I did when going to Kalguksu Alley (see the directions in that post). Then take the first turn right and plunge into the smaller alleys on the left, looking for signs that bear images of very happy looking cutlassfish. If you see lots of those signs then you are in one of the alleys that make up Hairtail Alley.

Why didn’t I eat there on my third day in the market when I knew where it was? Well, because while wandering it the previous day I had established that it was not really possible to eat properly there alone (as much as I’d enjoyed my solo haemultang experience at Wonjo Agujjim a couple of nights previous, I didn’t want to go through something like that again). But I will certainly eat there next February/March with the missus and the boys and probably also the students I am taking to Seoul.

If you managed to make your way through all 75 photographs in this gallery, I offer you congratulations and condolences. The good news is you have another massive gallery of images from Namdaemun Market to look forward to. That one will focus on cooked food (including the things I actually ate). On Sunday, probably. Before that I’ll probably have another Goa report and the last Bowmore review of the week.



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