Friday, April 3, 2015

Shopping In The Soul Of Daegu

The Heart Of Traditional Daegu Culture

By Matthew Caracciolo

There are two Koreas. There’s the old Korea, there’s the new Korea, and then there’s Seomun Market. Neither touristy nor inaccessible, Seomun Market is where to find the Korea of now, a place not particularly concerned about looking behind or ahead. Old, young, and families mix in a country where generations can seem so different from each other. It’s huge, it’s busy, and it’s everything it should be. This is the heart and soul of Daegu as it always has been, and likely always will be.

Seomun Market, together with the nearby Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Market, long ago solidified Daegu’s status as an important market town and crossroads. Its’ roots began in the late Joseon Dynasty period, during the last years of which the market became one of the three largest in Korea. The name ‘Seomun’, or ‘west gate’, refers to its location just outside the western gate of Daegu’s fortress walls, demolished in 1907. Today, the area sits just west of downtown Daegu in the center of a sprawling metropolis.

The market really starts to buzz after lunch time on the weekends, when well-rested families make their way to the market in search of, well, anything. The over 4000 stalls are divided across six ‘districts’ that roughly focus on different products, but the market is especially known as a place to browse for textiles and clothing. District 2 is particularly popular with the younger crowd, housing the most fashionable stalls. One can find almost anything in the market, however, including plenty of seafood, produce, bags, shoes, toys, and crafts. Prices are often cheaper than more conventional stores, and some stall owners may be willing to haggle prices. Exploring inside the buildings as well as outside is essential in grasping the enormity and variety of the place. It’s a bustling, crowded, and strictly Korean labyrinth.

The massive center is also a popular place to grab some food. Visitors looking to channel their inner ‘Andrew Zimmern’ and try some exotic foods should especially plan on eating lunch in the market. Beondegi, or silkworm larvae, are something of a split decision among Koreans; some swear by its’ soft tastiness and others can’t stand the stuff. Try a small cup for yourself. Through some of the main ‘thoroughfares’ between buildings are busy food stalls selling intestines, among other things.

Vendor making Hoddeok

If you’re not planning on being adventurous with your food, much more accessible options are plentifully available. On everyone’s ‘to try’ list ought to be hoddeok, a steaming, doughy pancake stuffed with brown sugar and sunflower seeds. Usually priced around 1000 won, this delicious treat is especially popular here in the market.  Kalguksoo, a simple but hearty noodle soup, is widely available within the market and is also a popular dish, especially in the cold winter months. Underground in District 2 is a busy place to grab food, with several small restaurants serving a variety of typical and delicious Korean meals and snacks. Two of the most popular choices are ddeokboki at Monani Ddeokboki and the unique combination of jajangmyeon and samgyeopsal, typically their own dishes.

Part of the allure of a trip to Seomun Market is getting hopelessly turned around, wanting to find that one stall you saw 10 minutes ago but, for all intents and purposes, packed up shop, moved to a different building, and is now selling pliers instead of pillows. If you want to visit with some semblance of direction, start at the entrance with the large green and pink archway that says ‘Seomun Market.’ From here, you can find the hoddeok by taking the first right. Kalguksoo vendors can be found outside the main gate, as well as between Districts 1 and 4. A tourist information center sits in front of a large parking garage just inside the archway entrance.

Seomun Market is open from 8am-8pm, although in reality most stalls start packing up around 6 or 7pm. The best time to come is in the mornings before the crowds arrive. The market is closed every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month. Take the subway to the Seomun Market stop and head out exit 1 or 5. Keep walking north along the monorail for a couple blocks and the archway entrance will be visible on the left within a few minutes. If taking a taxi, tell the driver “seo-mun-shi-jang ga-ju-se-yo”, meaning “Please go to Seomun Market.” (Address: 45, Keunjang-ro 26-gil, Jung-gu, Daegu, Korea).

Whether the plan includes some major shopping, food sampling, or just people watching, a visit to Seomun Market is an important and immersive stop on any visit to Daegu.

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