The markets and alleyways of Sindang-dong take you to a Seoul of an earlier age.
Course : Seoul Folk Flea Market → Dongmyo Shrine → Dongdaemun Apartments → Seoul Central Market, or Seoul Jungang Sijang → Seoul Art Space–Sindang → Hwanghak-dong Kitchen Utensils ㆍFurniture Street → Gwanghuimun Gate → Café Majo & Sady → Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Everything under the Sun
This walking tour begins at the Seoul Folk Flea Market, a two-story, 5,000-square meter warehouse where you'll find over 900 merchants hawking just about everything under the sun, from rare antiques and high-end booze to, well, just plain junk. The flea market got its start in the 1950s, just after the Korean War. In 2004, some of the sprawling outdoor market was moved to Dongdaemun Stadium to make way for the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon Stream, and in 2008, it was moved to its current home to make way for Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
The new indoor market may look spiffy and modern from the outside, but venture inside and you'll find a chaotic and delightfully claustrophobic space where you'll find a truly vast variety of things for sale. Broadly speaking, you'll find clothing, sundries and antiques on the first floor, with more clothing and sundries, souvenirs and a regional goods corner on the second floor. If you take your time, you'll discover some extraordinary and intriguingly random items for sale – this writer came across a wooden cigar store statue from Newark, New Jersey, complete with walrus mustache and Turkish fez. One can only imagine how that wound up in Korea. If you're looking for antiques, you'll find plenty of old furniture, old paintings and even old money. You'll find plenty of old movie and campaign posters, too.
For a bit of an old-timey coffee break, there's a coffeeshop done up like an old-school Korean-style tea room, or dabang, on the second floor. Be sure to try the “morning coffee,” a 1970's specialty of coffee served with an unbroken egg yolk in the bottom of the cup. Yum. The flea market spills over into the surrounding streets and alleyways as far as Dongmyo Station. Like the flea market proper, the variety of goods on sale is confined only by the limits of the human imagination. If you're looking for old records and LPs – everything sounds better on vinyl, after all – you'll find some used record shops with a wonderful collection of classical music and Western pop from the 60s and 70s. Many of the shoppers here are older and have been coming here for decades.
Another historic spot, albeit of much more recent vintage, is the old Dongdaemun Apartments, also located near Dongmyo Station. When it was erected in 1965, the apartment complex was one of the city's most modern – so favored by local TV and movie stars it was, in fact, that it was nicknamed “the celebrities' apartment.” Today, however, it's a bit long in the tooth and definitely shows its age, but the open courtyard and gritty atmosphere bring to mind Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions or Kowloon Walled City.
Art meets old-fashioned commerce
Surrounding the Central Market is yet another market, this one dedicated to kitchen equipment and supplies. Many of the shops specialize in industrial kitchen equipment for restaurants – the market supplies about 80 percent of the country's restaurants with their equipment - but you'll find plenty of stuff for your home kitchen as well. This writer picked up a cheap wok, for instance.
From the front entrance of Central Market, walk west along Toegye-ro past Sindang Station and the Chungmu Art Hall and you'll eventually come to a row of carpentry and metalworking shops. In the 1960s and 1970s, when Korea was experiencing a construction boom, there were a lot more of these workshops – in fact, to many Seoulites, Sindang-dong used to be virtually synonymous with blacksmiths. Now, however, only a handful remain of these shops remain. One of these shops, Chungnam Gongjakso, is run by a blacksmith who has been plying his trade for five decades. His workshop, full of metal bars, tools of all sorts and a very well-used anvil, is truly a space from a different era.
Just another short walk from there is Gwanghuimun Gate, one of the old city wall's minor gates. During the Joseon Dynasty, corpses were carried out of the city through this gate. Just behind the gate is a branch of Café Majo & Sady, dedicated to two Korean characters whom any Kakao Talk user would recognize. While the cafe is certainly nice, its view of the gate is even nicer. At the end of this walk you'll come to the futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, one of Seoul's newest and certainly one of its most eye-catching architectural landmarks. Designed by British star architect Zaha Hadid, the twisting, turning mass of concrete and steel is said by some to resemble a spaceship that has landed in the middle of Dongdaemun market. Essentially a monument to Seoul's ambition to be a global design center, the multi-use space hosts regular exhibits and performances. There are shops, cafes, restaurants and a park space, too.
Getting There : Seoul Folk Flea Market is a five-minute walk from Exit 6 of Sinseol-dong Station (Line 1) or Exit 9 or 10 of Sinseol-dong Station (Line 2).
Sindang-dong's culinary claim-to-fame is Sindang-dong tteok-bokki, a tasty dish of spicy, pan-fried rice cakes mixed with dumplings, fish cakes, boiled eggs and ramyeon noodles. Unlike the tteok-bokki you can find at street-side stalls all over the country, Sindang-dong tteok-bokki is no mere snack – it's a meal onto itself. The dish is cooked right at your table.
Sindangdong Tteokbokki Town is an alley lined by several busy restaurants. The oldest of these is Ma Bong-nim Halmeoni Tteok-bokki, founded by the eponymous Ma Bong-nim in 1953. Ma added sweet Chinese black bean sauce to the tangy red pepper sauce commonly used in the dish, giving hers a delightfully sweet and spicy taste. The other restaurants in the alley provide standard Sindang-dong Tteok-bokki in addition to unique variations that use ingredients like cheese or extra spice.
Getting there: A short walk from Exit 8 of Sindang Station (Line 2, 6)
[Jan. 26, 2015 10:54 Input / Jan. 01, 2016 00:00 Publish]