Friday, 25 July 2014

A Unique Korean 'Lunch In A Box' At Tong-In Market 통인시장도시락카페

                        (Tong-in Market's entrance)

This is for Seoulites, and for local or international tourists who want to experience an interesting way of having lunch in Seoul.
                         (The bus stop a few meters out of  the 
                  Exit 3 of Gyeongbuk Palace station)

Have you heard about the Dosirak Cafe at the Tong-in Market 통인시장도시락카페?  Tong-in Market is in Tongin-dong in the Jongno District in Seoul, where getting your lunch is unique. I actually haven't been here before and trying out new things to do in Seoul is always in my priority list.
                         (The main alley of the market)
So, when my friend Junho wanted to go somewhere for lunch, I suggested this place. He hasn't been here, too, and also wanted to find out why it's popular among tourists.

And one hot summer day, Junho, Hyunsung and I met up at the bus stop near Exit 3 of the Gyeongbuk Palace Station (Line 3). Tong-In Market is actually one bus stop away from Exit 3, but we decided to walk for a couple of hundred meters down; the market was just close by after all.

Tong-in Market is just like any other local market, where everyone can buy fruits, vegetables, cooking ingredients, and a lot more. But it's this market's Dosirak Cafe lunch box that makes this market popular and unique. Here's how (and why!):

1. At the Dosirak Cafe (2nd floor), you buy these tokens called yeopjeon. A yeopjeon is an ancient Korean coin with a hole in the middle. (But the yeopjeons being used here are new and recently manufactured.)  Each token is KRW500 and they are usually bundled together in ten's. So, one bundle is KRW5,000.
                                              (Junho's yeopjeon)
     (The ajussi's box full of yeopjeon that you need to buy)

2. After buying your yeopjeon from the ajussi or ajumma at the 2nd floor (they called the 2nd floor the 'Delivery Center'), you are also given an empty, black plastic lunch box.

3. Now, this is the fun part: With your tokens, you roam around the Tong-in Market (at the ground floor) and buy your food from any vendor with the Dosirak Cafe signage. 

                   (Hyunsung and Junho buying food items 
                                  using their yeopjeon)

4. The food items range from mandu (dumplings), bulgogki (beef), kimbap, korean sausages and other side dishes. I could not possibly enumerate everything that's available for lunch here. It's the whole market, remember? Ha-ha-ha!

                     (Buying some Korean sausages)

5. Each store displays the prices for each food item (usually 1 or 2 tokens as the price). When buying, the vendor puts the food you order into your lunch box and in exchange, you surrender your token to her.
                      (Tourists also trying out the Dosirak Cafe
                              and buying their lunch)
6. If you want to buy rice in a bowl, they sell it at the 2nd floor where you bought your tokens. Each bowl and a cup of hot soup cost 2 tokens. So, you might want to save 2 tokens for your rice and soup. But if you ran out, I think you can pay for the rice and soup in cash. 
            (The Dosirak Cafe signage next to the big container 
                       of cold sik-hye, a sweet rice beverage 
                        that's popular during the hot summer)
             (I bought a cup of cold sik-hye for 2 tokens)

A suggestion: before you go up the 2nd floor to buy your tokens, do roam around the market first (it's just an alley), and check out the food that interests you. This way, after buying your tokens and getting your empty lunch box, you now know which store you want to head to, instead of walking the entire alley with your lunch box while tummy is already grumbling.
                            (Finally, my lunch box!)
 7. After filling up your lunch box, you go back to the 'Delivery Center', where you can sit down to properly enjoy your lunch and chat about your unique Dosirak Cafe experience.
       (The area on the 2nd floor where you enjoy your lunch.
 There's also the 3rd floor if you can't find space on the 2nd.)

While we were filling up our lunch box at the alley, we noticed that there were a lot international tourists also roaming around picking up their lunch.  The whole alley seemed like a huge buffet table with a lot of choices. The only difference is that food is a lot cheaper!  You can, of course, buy more if you have more tokens, but the three of us just shared food that wasn't in another's lunch box. 
                               (A 'before' picture)
            (And this how it looked like 'after'. Ha-ha-ha!)

For KRW 5,000 (the worth of our individual bundle of tokens), this Dosirak Cafe experience was worth visiting. Even Junho and Hyungsung found our visit to this corner of Seoul fun! By the way, Dosirak Cafe is open from 11AM to 5PM, but you have to buy your yeopjeon by 4PM to give you time to 'shop' and enjoy your food. They're closed on Sundays. 

Just a bus ride from the Tong-in Market is the Buam-dong area which is also popular with its own local restaurants and cafes, not to mention its unique location, where on this neighborhood's mountainside, picturesque views of Pug-ak-san can be enjoyed. Perhaps, on my next visit to his corner of the city, that would be my next target.

As we were full from our lunch, the three of us decided to walk it off and stroll towards the Insa-dong area while chatting about the experience. And since we needed some coffee, Hyungsung suggested we head to his cousin's coffee shop next the Jogyesa Temple and the Somerset Palace Seoul. coffee. 

I'll share our interesting 'presidential' stroll on another blog...Burp!

No comments:

Post a Comment