Korea Trip 2010, Part 11: Namdaemun Marketplace, Part 2

    Yes, another travel post finishedddd!  Anyway, I went to Namdaemun 3-4 times while I was Seoul because I liked it so much.  They had a HUGE jewelry/beads floor - but it was open only to wholesalers :( so I didn't get to buy anything.  You can watch people handmaking fabric flowers, feathered hairbands, etc - it's amazing to see the work that goes behind making a single hairband~ I didn't take enough pictures of this place because I was too busy poking my head into the little booths, but hopefully this post will give you a little taste of what it is like :}

    This is a continuation to Namdaemun Marketplace, Part 1 :)
    To start from the beginning go to Part 1: Flying to Tokyo

    Anyway! To continue from Part 1: One my aunts told us not to exchange our money at the airport because it was a rip-off.  We did exchange about $200 at the airport for bus fares and such, but the rest of the cash we exchanged here:

    From old ladies like this ^_^

    It looked mad sketchy, but my aunt said that they give the best exchange rates.  These old ladies keep a couple thousand dollars worth of money in various currencies in a pouch around their waist; that and a little box set up with a calculator and rubberbands - that's all they need :}  These ladies have a little sign saying they exchange yen, yuan, won, and usd, but the exact exchange rate is somewhat informal because YES, you can bargain exchange rates.  It's best to go with an older fluent-speaking Korean man or woman to bargain for you because you'll get the best exchange rate.  However, don't expect to bargain too much either way, these ladies track the daily exchange rate and you won't be able to deviate much from that - it wouldn't be fair to them, honestly.  Either way, you'll probably get a better rate than what you will at the airport.  A lot of people both Koreans (about to visit the States I guess) and foreigners were exchanging money, so obviously it's quite legit.

    At first I wondered why the exchange-ladies didn't get robbed but my aunt told me it's because these old ladies are in the same place everyday aka have their territory, so the people/shopkeepers around them know to "protect" them.   Plus most of these exchange-ladies are 50+ so you'd look like a right douche bag trying to rip off the bag they have strapped around their body.  Not to mention these streets are very busy, no way you'd get far without someone tackling you.

    Anyway, less chat more pics ^_^!

    Sign says: Dak Gom Tang aka Chicken Beef Soup
    Gomtang (beef brisket & tripe soup) is a traditional soup that is enjoyed by many Koreans. In translation, gomtangbear soup but in this case gom refers to the extensive boiling which depicts the hearty flavors and nutrients that this dish provides. It is commonly said that consuming this soup will provide excellent strength much like a bear. - From Trifood
    For lunch we ate at a real hole-in-the-wall at Namedaemun.  Gom-tang soup is one of my favorite Korean dishes...I have a weakness for beef broth soups and gom-tang is a rare treat for me because it's rather hard to make since it requires a lot of boiling.  But made properly, this beef soup is actually quite healthy since you are supposed to skim off most of the fat :) DAK gom tang is gomtang/beef soup with pieces of chicken in it.  Dak = chicken :)

    Guy in blue shirt: The quintessential Korean "ahjusshi" aka older man.
    Good lord, could he fit the ahjusshi stereotype any better -_-;;? Wonbin he is not.

    How do you know this place has good, authentic food?  It's filled with old (aka aged 50+) Korean people xD  Younger folks tend to go to "trendier" fusion places, like coffee shops and cafes.  If you want to find real Korean food, follow the older Korean people.   This is the kind of restaurant that only locals know of and are able to keep regulars because of their food quality. They don't need a flashy setup because people come for the taste ;)

    Some people may find the set up dingier and rather fire-hazardous (it SO is), but it all points to good cooking xD

    Dak gom tang = Chicken-beef soup

    This restaurant literally sells only one thing: dak gom tag. There's a small menu on the wall, but they are all different versions of this beef broth+chicken soup. Remember what I said about the best restaurants only serving one thing ^_^?

    Anyway, you flavor the soup to your taste with spring onions and the soy sauce on the table.  The chicken leg is from Korean chickens, which are rangier and slightly less meaty than their American counterparts.   It was cooked so that the meat fell of the bones and melted in your mouth.  It was really clean tasting dish - it's hard to describe.    It's a "health" food, hence why a lot of old people are eating there ^_^ I believe it's pretty traditional as most dishes go.   Very simple but wholesome.  This was one of my favorite meals in Korea, which is saying something considering how many different places I ate.

    Those stairs are even more sketchy in real life :\ Definitely would not have passed building inspection in America xD  They even had a pad of cloth taped to the ceiling above the stairs because people kept bumping their head into it ^^

    Tangent: See the grannies in the back of the picture?   That is the classic halmoni (granny) in Korea wearing the halmoni "uniform" - wide-brimmed sunhat/cap, polo shirt, sneakers, khaki shorts, and short curly hair.   All grannies pretty much dress like that since it's both practical and comfortable.  Public transportation is free for all elderly citizens so you see a lot of older folk out and about :) They're all slightly off their rocker ^_~, but god knows I want to be just like them after I retire - bustling around a city, sightseeing with all my friends!  

    I think free public transportation for senior citizens is something America should really implement.  Yes, senior citizens get discounts but that's really not the same thing as free.  I hesitate to make too many broad assumptions but I think if America did this, a lot of elderly people would become healthier (literally) just by having a way to get around for free.  Even if they have nowhere particular to go, I think the act of just being outside would increase the overall physical and mental health of ALL senior citizens, rich and poor, in America.

    For dinner we went to another little restaurant, which was located inside one of the shopping buildings at Namdaemun.  It was sandwiched between the "imported furniture and goods" section and the "clothing/bath" section.   Random huh ^_^?

    This place didn't even have a menu.  They just bring the food out to you since they serve only 2 things:

    This was some good stuff and I don't even like seafood.  On the left is a salad with raw fish and hot sauce (a sushi salad if you will) and on the right is fish-head soup. You just eat everything with rice.

    I was kind of nervous about the fish head soup - my aunt ate every bit of meat of the head O_O (which I didn't do) but damn the soup was tasty.  It was fermented soybean-paste soup with the "deep" flavor Koreans really like: a deep flavor means the soybeans were fermented for a long time.  It's really good for you ^_^


    After mixing my "sushi salad" I wolfed it down even though I could've done with less lettuce (I hate salads obviously).  But it was crazy good!  It's the best seafood dish I've eaten in my life~  The textures and flavors of the hot sauce + lettuce + raw fish just really make this a very simple yet yummy dish.  The texture of the raw fish was perfect - it tasted very fresh.   Supposedly, the raw fish is brought in fresh every day and never frozen - it certainly tasted that way.  Definitely one of yummiest "salads" I've ever eaten. And the idea of hot sauce instead of dressing appeals greatly to me. Not only is it less fattening, it adds a hella lot more flavor!

    *whew* I didn't take any more pictures at Namdaemun Market, but I think you guys get the idea ^_^!  Like I said, this is my favorite marketplace in Seoul, perfect for picking up really useful things (cuz even as a makeup lover I know makeup is more a luxury than a necessity ^_~) and have all these interesting eateries nestled in between.  Don't get turned off by the cramped, occasionally dingy surface - this place is as real as it gets :D  It was really overwhelming at first - the hustle, the crowd, the number of things to look at - but it's so Korean, truly a vibrant clash of the new and old - I loved it :D!

    On to Part 12: A Buddhist Temple in Seoul


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