On my first venture to Namdaemun Market during my first weekend in Seoul as a tourist, I got lost. I think I got out on the wrong exit and ended up on the opposite side. I remember asking for help twice, but since both Korean women didn't speak English (and I couldn't speak survival Korean then!), I just had to find my way back to the correct exit. Fortunately, I was able to buy the souvenirs I had to bring back home: 'Korea' t-shirts, traditional Korean fans and of course, a poster of a popular Korean actor.
Since then, I return to Namdaemun Market every once in a while to buy a few more souvenirs and presents to bring home: ginseng tea and korean drama actor calendars.
But every time I'm in the area, I noticed that most tourists and shoppers don't flock at the souvenir shops or the bag shops or the clothes shops. They flock at the Korean food stalls!
Yes, the most popular guys in the Namdaemun Market are not your favorite K-pop stars or Korean actors and actresses! They are the Korean food vendors!
Just go to the Namdaemun Gate 2 and you will see a long queue of foreign tourists and locals waiting for their turn to get some hotteok or some bindaetteok.
And if you enter through Gate 2, that mandu stall on your left is also a favorite spot, where the Korean lady displays her mandu (Korean dumplings) of all sizes!
Next to that stall is a small bindae-tteok or bindae-duk restaurant, which is also popular to the local office employees during lunch time. The lines could be long during a weekday, but a couple of months ago, my friends Jenny, Sophie and I were lucky to enjoy a meal in this restaurant during a holiday. Bindae-tteok is a pan fried dish with veggies and mung beans inside. How I wanted to describe it, but doing it would just make me drool while I'm writing this. Ha-ha-ha! When eaten warm, it's really yummy, yummy, yummy!
And on the other side of Namdaemun Market, near Exit 5 of the Hoehyeon Station (Namdaemun Station), another shop attended by a few Korean ajummas, sells hwang mandu (big-sized mandu). This shop also enjoys a long line of regular customers mixed with tourists. And whenever I am in the area, I usually buy a box of mandu (only KRW 6,000 of ten big pieces!) only when there's no long line!
But my favorite stall of all, since I have a sweet tooth, is that of the hotteok guys (with green aprons) on that alley leading to the Shinsegae Department store, or if I were coming from Gate 2 of Namdaemun Market, I turn left at the first alley and follow the wafting of the hotteok frying at the next mini-intersection. Hotteok is another pan fried delicacy which is filled with cinnamon, melted brown sugar and sliced nuts. I usually buy two because one is never enough! And it's only KRW 1,000 each! Happiness could be that cheap! Ha-ha-ha!
Sometimes, the lines in front of these guys are so long, the ajumma selling bags at the next stall complains because the hotteok customers cover her shop. Ha-ha-ha! Everyone has to re-align the line.
So, the next time you're walking through the alleys of the Namdaemun Market, observe where shoppers, locals and tourists actually flock, and you can immediately tell that K-pop stars and Korean celebrities are not the most popular people in Namdaemun Market.
I will see you all there!