For the real market experience, you have to visit Tongbok market. Getting there is easy if you’re close to a bus stop on the 20Bus route. Just get off at the stop where there are a ton of ladies selling huge mountains of garlic.
Be warned: this is not the place to dilly-dally. You will get run over by 1,000 old ladies rushing to and fro on important wet market business. They make bee-lines for the dried fish and will not side step you in the process.
So, what exactly does this market have to offer? We covered the dried fish already. I don’t actually know what you are supposed to do with a bunch of dried out fish, but this is the place to get them!
FRESH chili powder. You don’t know chili powder until you’ve attempted to buy it here. The chili powder buying experience is totally artificial in the US. I mean, it comes in little plastic sealed jars and there’s zero risk of you inhaling a whole cloud of it. Your eyes will never feel the exhilarating sting of airborne chili particles getting lodged in your tear ducts. Are we really experiencing chili powder in the US? No. No, we are not. Take a look at this:
Yes, that is a kiddie pool of loose chili powder sitting on the ground. Now, don’t settle for the first swimming pool of hot, stinging death powder. Be sure to walk around to all the stalls offering it and only buy the powder that burns your eyes the most. If you’re going to go through this process, you might as well get the good stuff.
Even though this is a semi-indoor foot traffic market with 2.5 foot wide walkways, be prepared for traffic jams such as the one in the picture above. Look closely and you will see that this guy on the delivery motorcycle is stopped and waiting for both a black sedan and delivery truck to move. There isn’t actually anywhere for the car and truck to go (as this is an indoor foot traffic market) so this guy on the motorcycle is going to be stuck for quite a while. No one actually knows how those cars got there, either. It’s just another fun Korean mystery! To get around a jam like this, just find a lady pulling one of those wheels carts and follow her. She will squeeze through anything and you’ll feel like you’re watching that horrible scene of the Knight Bus in the Harry Potter movies. The lady in the pink shirt is who you would follow in this particular traffic jam.
Now, back to buying stuff. Legend has it that you can buy a whole pig’s head here. I searched the whole place and found no such thing. What I did find, however, were plastic pigs’ heads that can be conveniently used to hold small dishes.
Stomping through raw chicken juice always makes me feel famished. Luckily there are tons of little makeshift restaurants all along the market that serve up anything you could imagine. Most of them are empty, but check out this dumpling place! It took me fifteen minutes just to be able to take a picture because so many people were crowded around ordering frantically.
The dumplings are great. I can’t vouch for the Korean fruitcake triangles though. You go ahead and try those and tell me all about it afterwards.
You can also buy some Korean trinkets and souvenirs here. They’re much better than anything you’ll pick up at the airport when you’re flight leaves in 28 minutes and you’ve totally forgotten to get your great aunt Margaret a token from your trip.
Tongbok is a wet market. The real reason people come here is the get really fresh meat and seafood. Be mindful that you are literally walking through raw chicken juice and blood. This is why you take your shoes off at the door to your home, guys. Do not wear fuzzy bedroom slippers to Tongbok.
After a long day of shopping at the Tongbok wet market, you may be feeling a bit woozy. Whatever you do to combat this feeling, don’t drink this mysterious drink that a money-changing lady gave you. It’s icky.