Dongdaemun, More Than Just a Fashion Town
See & Do Tours
Do you fancy shopping? Then it goes without saying that Seoul should be at the top of your list as a destination for shopping in Asia. Seoul has a plethora of shopping malls, department stores, and retail outlets, but let's be honest, while doing high end retail shopping at these outlets do have their merits, it's not the best way to experience the true shopping culture of a foreign country. Leave the western-style shopping practices behind you, and discover a whole new world of shopping at some of the most famous traditional markets and shopping centers in Seoul. If you are true lover of shopping - meaning you don't limit yourself to luxury department stores - then you will enjoy Dongdaemun Market, the shopping mecca of Seoul that never sleeps.
Many of you - especially you fashion fanatics - are probably familiar with Dongdaemun Market. But for those of you who aren't, Dongdaemun Market is most famous as Seoul's largest fashion town that never sleeps. (Okay, it does go to sleep, but not until 5 am, which in my book is sleeps a lot less than I do!) Huge shopping centers, like Doota, Migliore, and Hello apM, at Dongdaemun are solely devoted to trendy fashion items. Hundred of stores and boutiques fill the floors of these towering shopping centers and offer the most trendy fashion items at reasonable prices. Dongdaemun Market is a shopaholic's haven on steroids; from wholesale to retail shopping, Dongdaemun Market is your one-stop location for just about anything - even for you nocturnal. If it's trendy fashion items that you want, then Dongdaemun Market is the place for you.
But Dongdaemun Market is not just a fashion district loaded with shopping centers; what makes Dongdaemun Market truly unique are its traditional markets (and the food at these traditional Korean markets): Gwangjang Market, Bangsan Market, and Pyeonghwa Market.
For those of you who may be wondering, Dongdaemun, which literally translates to 'Eastern Gate', is one of the four major gates of Seoul. Gwanghwamun, Namdaemun (another major traditional market that we will delve into at a later point), and Seodaemun are the north, south, and west gates respectively. These four gates were once the major gates into the capital city during Joseon Period (1392-1897). The origins of Dongdaemun Market date back to 1905 at Gwangjang Market, which still exists today! Originally a night market opening from just 1pm~1am, today many areas are open from 10am~5am with some being open for 24 hours.
Let's step away from western-style shopping and visit some traditional markets that truly represent the shopping culture and traditions of Korea. They may not be the cleanest places in Seoul, but the people there are full of love.
With a history of over 100 years, Gwangjang Market is one of Korea's largest and oldest traditional markets. Up until the late 1800's, Korean markets functioned more or less like pop-up markets which were only open for a few days at a time. In 1905, Gwangjang Market became the first permanently established market that was open every day. The market still thrives today as a popular location for vintage clothing and its diversity of street foods.
For anyone interested in fashion, especially vintage fashion and silk lovers, Gwangjang Market is a must visit. From t-shirts and jeans to silk and leather goods, a diverse variety of unique (and typical) fashion goods can be found here at bargain prices. For a smart shopper with a good eye, it's not difficult to find some great deals - which, let's admit, IS the most exciting part about shopping.
Shopping for unique vintage clothing is fun, but for locals, the foods of Gwangjang Market is what the place is all about. The plethora of finger-licking good food is what makes Gwangjang Market busy, rain or sunshine. You can't go wrong with any of the food here, but the three foods that you absolutely cannot miss are Jeon, Yukhoe, and Mayak Gimbap.
Vintage Jeans,Vintage Shoes
Jeon Jeon refers to fried pancake like dishes in Korean cuisine. Jeon is made by mixing various ingredients, such as sliced meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, with rice or wheat batter and then pan-frying with oil. Jeon is commonly eaten as an appetizer or as anju (food eaten while drinking alcoholic beverages), and is often paired with makgeolli (traditional rice wine). Bindaetteok is perhaps the most famous Jeon at Gwangjang Market. Bindaetteok, aka Nokdujeon, is a type of Jeon made from ground mung beans and meat (usually beef or pork), kimchi, and various other vegetables. It is typically served with a small side serving of dipping sauce made of soy sauce.
Yukhoe Yukhoe is essentially Korean steak tartare. Yukhoe is made from raw beef seasoned with various spices and sauces, usually soy sauce, sugar, salt, sesame oil, spring onions, minced garlic, and julienned Korean pear. A raw egg yolk is usually added on the top of the dish. Yukhoe is commonly eaten as anju (food eaten while drinking alcoholic beverages). What sets the Yukhoe at Gwangjang Market from the rest is the quality. It may not seem like it at a glance, but the Yukhoe restaurants here use only the freshest, premium quality cuts of beef, unlike many other places that use previously frozen beef.
Mayak Gimbap Many of you are probably familiar with Gimbap, but why are these called Mayak Gimbap you ask? Well, 'mayak' means narcotics in Korean, and the name suggests, the Gimbap here are so deliciously addictive that you will always want to come back for more. Seeing a plate of Mayak Gimbap for the first time may be disappointing to some because of its simplicity, but all doubt will disappear the moment you take your first bite. It's almost guaranteed that you will be thinking about it on your way home.
Gwangjang Market's Jeon, Yukhoe, and Mayak Gimbap Alley
Bindaetteok, Yukhoe, Mayak Gimbap / Gwangjang Market Food Alley
Bangsan Market does not sell any fashion goods. This market is renowned for specializing in baking supplies and appliances. Whether it's for baking ingredients and small utensils to large baking appliances, Bangsan Market is the place to be for any baking enthusiast. With over 500 stores dedicated to baking supplies, there's practically no baking related item that you won't be able to find here.
The name of the market comes from the location's former condition during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). At the time, the area was infamous for its foul smell. People began ironically calling the market Bangsan, bang meaning fragrant in Korean, which stuck until this day. But don't let that make you think the area still smells foul; rest assured that it doesn't.
Bangsan Market is also famous for its specialty chocolate shops. Mostly located on the first floor of the Jonghap Sangga (shopping center) building A, stores with over 20 years of history sell mouth-watering gourmet chocolates.
Central Asian Town
Want to get some Central Asian food in Seoul? Then, head over to the Central Asian Town, located in the heart of the Dongdaemun area.
By the mid 1990's, Dongdaemun saw a dramatic increase of textile merchant from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Mongolia. As they began settling in nearby areas of Dongdaemun's Fashion town, so did their customs, traditions, and food. As a result, the neighborhood just west of Dongdaemun History & Culture Station slowly, but surely developed into the Central Asian Town of today. From all the non-Korean billboards and signs to the aroma of savory foods, once you step into the streets of the Central Asian Village, you will forget that you were ever in Korea.
From a wide variety of services local immigrants to delicious restaurants for everyone, this is the place to go to experience the culture and food from Central Asia. Lamb dishes here are especially some of the best in Korea. Restaurants around here might not look much from outside, but do not judge a book by its cover. Slow-roasted lamb skewers are to die for.
Pyeonghwa Market paved the way for the Dongdaemun area to become the modern fashion town of Korea it is today. Located just south of Cheonggyecheon(Stream), the origins began as a shanty town for North Korean refugees after then end of the Korean War in 1953. Equipped with only a sewing machine, refugees began selling reformed clothes made from US army uniforms. In 1962, the first modern concrete structure, resembling the market today, was built and named Pyeonghwa, meaning peace in Korean, in hopes that no other wars would be fought on Korean soil. This historic fashion market is where the Dongdaemun Fashion Town, now consisting over 30,000 stores in 26 shopping centers, all began.
Although Pyeonghwa Market is a wholesale market (from 9pm~6am) meant for retail merchants, many stores do sell to regular customers during the day. At prices slightly cheaper than many other retail outlets in Dongdaemun, Pyeonghwa Market is definitely a must visit for any fashion enthusiast.