Heading to Seoul, Korea? Here is a list of the best food markets in Seoul and what to eat at each one! Get directions and tips from someone who lived and ate in Seoul for over 2 years!
Let’s be honest: the main reason to travel is to EAT! No, we’re not foodies, we just enjoy a good meal. And if its unique enough to post on Insta? Even better.
Korea is full of interesting foods and decorative deserts which are heating up social media. The majority of Koreans are, after all, very tech savvy and love promoting their heritage! At Korean food markets you’ll find everything from basic snacks of fried bugs to over-the-top ice cream bowls. All the most unique and delicious street foods come out to play, competing to be the most authentic, delicious, and beautiful.
Eating at any of the many street food markets in Seoul should be at the top of any traveler’s Seoul Bucket List, even if you aren’t familiar with Korean food. Food markets are about more than just food, anyway! Each food market has it’s own vibe, and becomes an experience all on it’s own. You’ll be surrounded by locals yelling over each other to order a meal, assaulted by new smells and sights, and see bright lights, unusual food displays, and even vendor costumes. Eventually you’ll have your favorite food markets to advise other travelers on, and it may or may not even include the Korean specialy of that market.
By trying tapas from various food stalls and taking pictures of the amazing activity you’ll not only look legit AF to your foodie friends back home, you’ll also get to try some awesome food!
Top Korean Food Markets in Seoul
As recent as a decade ago food vendors used to be found on every public corner in Seoul. So were pigeons. Eventually the city realized that the best way to clean up the city was to relegate the majority of outdoor food sales to certain regions. You’ll still find random street vendors around the city (and pigeons), but nowadays the various food markets have subsided to a few major players.
These food markets are registered by the city and vendors must pass a series of tests in order to sell their products. The areas are monitored by police and tourism agency members (wearing red vests and badges to indicate which languages they speak), so tourists should feel quite safe about their surroundings and eats while wandering around (though Seoul is considered a highly safe city, anyway).
There are still enough official food markets in Seoul to spark some controversy among friends. People develop favorites based on location, attracted visitors, and food specialties. Of the many we tried around Seoul, here is our list of the top 5 food markets which should be on your Seoul Bucket List.
1. Myeongdong Food Market
Myeongdong is our #1 pick for food markets in Seoul. It’s easy to get to by taking a bus or train to the Myeongdong station. Signs are clearly marked telling you how to get from the station to the market, too!
By day Myeongdong is known as the beauty capital of Seoul. The streets are flanked by enticing beauty and makeup stores. By night food stalls show up and you’re able to eat incredible street food as beauty store employees beckon you inside with free facial samples.
Food stands set up in extra wide foot-traffic streets in mid afternoon. By 5:00 pm you’ll see a few that are ready, but things start to get really crazy around sunset.
At Myeongdong market you’ll find cheese-covered lobster tails, potato tornado, fresh pomegranate juice, ham and cabbage omelets, strawberry mochi, fried hot dogs, fresh churros, and more delicious and crazy eats.
Everything looks amazing, and the vendors are eager for your patronage. Be aware that it gets really crowded and that prices are a bit steeper than other food markets in Seoul, since it’s known as a tourist spot. We usually rank tourist areas at the bottom of our lists, but Myeongdong food market is different. This one is popular for a reason! You just can’t ignore the ease of getting here, the comfort of wide pedestrian streets, the huge variety of vendors, and the nightlife of surrounding shopping.
The downside to Myeongdong market, aside from the crowds, is the price. Vendors know that the hoards are willing to pay more for the experience of eating at one of Seoul’s top food markets, so the prices will be higher here than at competing food markets in the city. It’s definitely the best one to visit if you can only go to one food market on your trip to Seoul, but please try to make it to a more low-key food market during your visit to compare!
Our top picks to eat at Myeongdong Food Market:
- Shrimp or lobster cooked in button on the spot. Amazing.
- Ice cream and honeycomb served in fish-shaped cone. We’re talking fresh honeycomb!
- Korean basics like dak (sweet and sour fried chicken pieces) and sikhye (sweet rice water)
2. Namdaemun Market
Namdaemun Market is much more than a food market. It’s one of Seoul’s oldest retail centers, with many interconnected streets offering fabric, accessories, toys, shoes, and more.
Namdaemun’s food scene is much smaller and very different from the larger Myeongdong food market, but since you can buy other things while there it’s still a great place to see!
Some food stalls can be found interspersed along the foot traffic zones, but they mostly offer fried donuts, fresh juice, and other small items. If you’re interested in more filling food you’ll have to go down Namdaemun’s restaurant row.
Follow your nose to a dark alley with restaurant openings. You’ll walk past many small restaurants mostly offering the same traditional Korean dishes like Kimchi Jiggae, bibimbap, and fish. They’ll have tables out front with saran wrap-covered sample dishes and women at the doors shouting, “English menu!”
It’s not exactly street food, but the restaurants are found on the street in the middle of a market so that counts, right?
The benefit of Namdaemun Food Market is that it has more of a local vibe than Myeongdong. You’ll find local ajummas bending over to inspect wares at the same stalls you can imagine they’ve been shopping for decades. It’s refreshing to see locals interacting in this way, especially after the more tourist-heavy stalls of Myeongdong.
The downside is that Namdaemun doesn’t have the variety or ease of Myeongdong. You’ll need to eat at a more formal restaurant, which means:
- Choosing where to eat. This is difficult, as the rows of restaurants all serve basically the same thing. They all want your business, too, so which person yelling that they have the best menu can you trust?
- Committing to an entire meal. As opposed to other food markets, if you are getting dinner at Namdaemun with friends you’ll need to commit to all eating at the same restaurant. When you’re used to picking and choosing your menu items from different stalls it can feel suffocating to order an entire meal in one place!
Our top picks to eat at Namdaemun Market:
- Any restaurant for kimchi jjigae (spicy kimchi and tofu soup)
- Kkwabaegi (twisted donuts) at a food stall
- Sea Cucumber. This Korean favorite isn’t popular because of it’s taste. Koreans are very concerned with their health, and consider sea cucumber to be a general health aid. You’ll find street vendors cleaning and selling huge tubs of these slimy creatures, which makes Namdaemun the perfect place to try them.
3. Gwangjang Market
Gwangjang Market is one of the most famous food markets in Seoul. It’s often featured on travel and food TV shows, and, to be honest, we’re not sure why.
Gwangjang Market is a covered clothing and textile market found in the famous Dongdaemun shopping district. You’ll feel stuffy as soon as you walk in due to poor air flow and heat from the central food stalls.
This food market is a combination of Myeongdong and Namdaemun; separate food stalls are in the center, which are really just mini open restaurants all offering the same meals. It’s also filled with tourists due to it’s high publicity. It’s still fun to walk around and hear the ajummas (Korean grandmothers) yell at tourists to come to their stand!
The good thing about Gwangjang is that, despite it’s modern popularity, it remains true to Korea’s cultural roots. You’ll find many authentic, traditional Korean foods here since stalls are not pandering to tourists palates. If you’re feeling adventurous you could walk away with something you love!
Our top picks to eat at Gwangjang Market:
- Soondae (blood sausage)
- Gimbap (Korean sushi. Rice and pickeled vegetables wrapped in seaweed and served with hot sauce)
- Bindaetteok (mung bean pancake. Greasy and crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle and served with sauce and kimchi)
4. Dongdaemun Market
Just down the street from Gwangjang Market (literally) is Dongdaemun Market. Known simply as “Market” when searching Google Maps in the Dongdaemun area, it’s a random few streets of food stalls amidst the plethora of shopping. Dongdaemun is a smaller, more local food market which doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s one of our favorites and definitely worth a spot on our list of the top food markets in Seoul!
Blink and you’ll miss it, which would be a shame. This little spot actually delivered some of our favorite basic traditional Korean street food!
We found stalls serving chicken on a stick, tempura vegetables, fresh fruit juices, fried tofu, and more. Things were all made to order on each stall’s cooktop, then served to us in paper bowls with giant toothpicks and sauce on the side in paper cups.
Food was authentic, cheap, and really, really good. Oil can do that for you, though!
The downside of Dongdaemun market is that it’s smaller than the others. We still loved the delicious, no-frills options, but you won’t find the huge variety of foods or the crazy serving displays as in other Seoul food markets. And if you find a food stall which looks exceptionally delicious chances are you’ll have to wait your turn behind other customers. There aren’t enough food stalls to go around, but being patient isn’t a terrible thing.
Our top picks to eat at Dongdaemun Market:
- Kimchi Pancake (kimchi and green onion mixed into a batter and fried. Sounds weird but tastes incredible, especially with the sauce it’s served with!)
- Sausage (giant sausage is sliced and cooked to get extra crispy on the inside. Served with ketchup on top, but you can say “Ani ketchup” if you don’t want that.)
How to Eat at Korean Street Food Markets
If you’ve never been to Korea before you probably aren’t sure about the protocol of eating at Korean food markets. Don’t worry- here are all the tips you need to feel comfortable!
1. Getting to Korean Food Markets
These Seoul street food markets are pretty easy to find. Google Maps doesn’t always show correct addresses for businesses in Korea, but these food markets are popular enough that the location is pretty exact.
If you need additional help getting step-by-step instructions download the app KakaoMetro for help navigating the subway.
Take the subway to the correct stop, and there will be signs from the exit telling you (in English) which direction to take for the market.
2. Ordering at Korean Food Markets
You definitely don’t have to know any Korean to order at food vendors!
Find a station you like, wait in line if necessary, and just point to what you want. International sign language is great for these types of things and the vendors are more than used to communicating this way!
They will ask how many you want by gesturing or holding up fingers, so you can get exactly what and how many you want. You may also gesture with the vendor over getting it on a plate, with a sauce, etc.
3. Paying at Korean Food Markets
The main rule for going to any street food markets in Korea is to BRING CASH! And bring small bills.
Most items will cost between 3,000-10,000 Korean Won. Bills come in 1,000’s, 10,000’s, and 50,000’s. Don’t bother bringing a 50,000 with you unless you’re feeding an entire family. It’s rude to expect vendors to shell out enough spare change to cover the rest of your bill. Instead bring 1’s and 10’s.
The more popular food markets, like Myeongdong, will have signs on their stations saying how much money each item costs. If they don’t have a sign just hold out your money and give a questioning gesture. Don’t worry about being overcharged- there is usually too much respect and not enough time in the interaction for a vendor to care that much.
4. Disposing of Trash at Korean Food Markets
You’re going to be eating this food while walking, which means you’ll have trash when you finish. You won’t see many available trash cans, however. There are a few reasons for this, but what you really need to know is to be prepared to hold your empty plate or cup and just be on the lookout for a bin.
5. Top Korean Foods to try at Food Markets
If you’re looking for the most delicious, authentic Korean street food you can find we’ve compiled a whole list on our top 10 Korean foods!
Most of these, like odeng, are easy to find at Korean food markets. Others require a little more hunting, but the chase is part of the fun, right?
Eating street food from a Korean Food Market is one of the most fun and authentic ways to enjoy the country. We hope you love Korean food as much as we do!
The O’Briens sold everything in 2017 to travel the world full-time. They work online as digital nomads to fund their travels, and homeschool their son along the way. Follow them on Instagram and YouTube for a glimpse into what it’s like to travel full-time as a family!