The Magnificent Local Markets of South Korea

You may have heard about the indoor/outdoor markets in South Korea.  They are wonderlands for the investigative type.  If you like snooping around local shops to see what the natives are buying, then spend some of your free time in the markets.  They are located in essentially every region of every city in Korea.  No matter what it is that you may be looking for, you’ll likely come across it at the markets.

Each morning on my way to school, I stop and get fish cakes from a vendor just as they are coming out of the cooker.  They are way too hot to hold, let alone eat, for several minutes.  I mean SEVERAL.  Once I get them, I walk the rest of the way to school, unlock my classroom, and set up shop before I can even think about reaching into the bag.  I don’t know if they’re using jet fuel to cook these in or what, but they will singe your fingers if you reach into the bag too soon.  I speak form experience.

There are also many soup shops.  They all essentially sell the same types of soup.  Pumpkin, black bean, and one other that is likely made of rice or something.  There are small bakeries and coffee shops as well to catch something quick.

Did you hear the one about the 4 little pigs?

No matter what you may need for your apartment, it’ll be somewhere in the markets.  Bedding, clothing, household and cooking wares…you name it.

All food groups are covered as well.  Pork, beef, poultry, and seafood are everywhere.  The fish are alive in tanks so you get to take it home fresh – gutted and scaled as well.  Produce is a bit of a conundrum though.  Many fruits and vegetables in Korea are not grown in Korea.  The land here is too hard and mountainous, so it makes it impossible to harvest most kinds of produce.  Because of this, the price is sky high.  Much more so than back home (in America at least).  Some of the indigenous produce is available and much more affordable.

If you’re a vegetarian or if you do any kind of juicing, you will be spending a bit more than what you’d be accustomed to back home.

The markets also are chock full of grains.  You’d really need to know what you’re looking at to make any educated purchase, but if grains are your thing you’ll have fun.  Some places grind grains down into drink mixes or dressings for salads.  The head administrator at my school introduced me to this mix that Koreans drink for breakfast that has black beans, sesame and a few other things in it – ground down to a fine powder that you mix in milk with a little sugar.  Good stuff.  I sent some home to my brother…(read on below)

If you like kimchi, I mean, if you really, REALLY like kimchi then you’ll be so happy.  And for good reason.  The kimchi in these markets is so bad-butt (my G-rated lingo).  Even the smell is awesome.  It has a richer, fuller smell where the red pepper mixes with the veggies to really bring out the aroma.  None of that sour, from-a-jar stuff you get in an “Asian” market back home.  Unless you’re from NYC or LA, then you probably get the good stuff.


The various types of fresh-from-the-pots kimchi are available in full force in these markets and let me tell you…it’s the money.  I mean like, booyah-ka-shah delish.

My supermarket is also in Namhang Market (시장).  I walk through Namhang Shijang every morning on my way to school.  I’ve seen many shops turn over in the past two years, but those that have lasted have become familiar with my face.  And that’s pretty cool.

Ultimately, it’s going to be the little things that make your experience in Korea memorable.  Even if you want to judo chop one of your coworkers or strangle some of your students, some day when it’s all said and done, the little things will remain in your memory bank.  Friends you’ve made from other countries and Koreans alike.  Activities you were involved in.  Sights you took in.  And even something like walking through the local markets – meeting the shop keepers and buying things you’ll likely never have access to again once you leave.

It’s THAT!

So if you come here, or while you’re here, spend some time perusing the markets in your neighborhood.  It’ll be time well spent.  Eat some kimchi!


  1. Is the kimchi still that good, four years later?

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