Cycle 5 – Item 69
15 (Sat) March 2014
-Namchang, Jung, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
3rd Home Visit (Day 1)
In Korea on a weekender, no particular reason, unless visiting with family is a reason.
We spent the afternoon hanging out in Myeong-dong.
Namdaemun Market (“sijang”) is a market place. A neighborhood in itself (i.e., Namchang-Dong), the largest of its kind in Korea. Comprises a sprawling labyrinth of small alleys, connecting buildings of various sizes, crammed with tiny stalls, though some vendors have storefronts directly facing the alleys, others hawking their merchandise from carts. Clothing, kitchenwares, toys, eyeglasses – I’ve been getting mine at the same place for over 20 years – beauty products, electronics, souvenirs, foodstuffs, military surplus, contraband (i.e., goods smuggled from the US base commissary/PX), whatever. Located in the heart of downtown, under the shadow of Namdaemun (“Great South Gate”).
Back in the day, it was the ultimate shopping destination, perhaps up until the late 80s, when department stores and large-scale supermarkets began to proliferate throughout the city. Nowadays, with mega-retailers in every neighborhood (e.g., E-Mart), Namdaemun Market is largely a place for old people and tourists.
In the evenings, and all day Sundays, food carts and their tents set up along the alleys. All more or less the same in menu choice and quality, each place typically offers various seafoods and meats, including innards, usually stir-fried in a spicy sauce (tip: if unsure of what to order, just point at something, and the cook will take care of the rest), plus skewers, japchae, gimbab, jeon, and ham hocks, as well as more traditional street food items, such as boiled mussels, odeng, sundae, and of course ddeokbokki.
Whereas each cart/tent will certainly vary in terms of quality and taste, I don’t think that anybody, seller or buyer, cares that much. Other than maybe some local merchants, probably 95% of all customers are one-shot deals, either locals grabbing a quick bite while running a random errand – like us – or tourists nibbling out of curiosity, so I doubt that repeat business is an issue. I’m not even sure if the same cart/tent sets up in the same place every time.
To facilitate the tourist experience, the market has developed a standardized menu for the carts to use. Written in Korea, English, and Japanese (no Chinese?!). The prices are surprisingly cheap, about half of what similar dishes would cost at cart/tents on the outside, maybe so as not to scare off tourists, maybe because the portions come smaller. Includes a phone number for an ombudsman in case of complaints. A great idea.
The ddeokbokki here was quite good. Done in the Myeong-dong style (see generally 4.092 Ddeokbokki) (Myeong-dong, the modernized shopping mecca for tourists, is one neighborhood/subway stop over).
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)