There are plenty of downsides to living in the countryside. The 40 minute to an hour bus ride into town is one. The long trek can be frustrating especially when I have run out of food that is unavailable in my rural grocery store.
Happily, on every day of the month ending in 3 or 8, I can pop over to the Namchang Street Market. It is only a few blocks away from my school, and there just so happens to be many a lunch break spent wandering through the vegetable alleyways.
What items are available to me out in the rice fields, you might wonder?
I always take advantage of the vast quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables sold at much cheaper prices. I will also buy random selections of leafy greens found in, what I like to call, ‘Ajumma Alley’. It’s a long avenue with little old Korean grandmas setting up shop in the center of the market.
side note: I have a theory about the ajummas, and I have a suspicion that many a secret is passed along at the Namchang Market. It might even be their base of operations.
I don’t require copious amounts of garlic, or farm tools, but if I did they are available.
I love anything green and growing; plants are a minor obsession of mine. Most of the plants I have accumulated while in Korea have come from this market, including my most recent addition, a cactus, whom I named $1 (after a student).
If you happen to find Kimchi delicious (as I do) there are numerous varieties of fermented vegetables to choose from.
Sometimes I am astonished by the conditions for selling food in other countries. To walk around and see crates of raw chicken sitting out for customers to view (un-refrigerated) is completely foreign to me. There are plenty of fresh octopuses and other sea creatures to purchase as well. Anyone fancy some sannakji (live octopus)?
There are, however, some “foods” that I was shocked to find during my first few visits.
For those of you new to Korean, 고래고기 translates into English as whale meat. Yes, they sell whale meat at my local market. According to my students it smells terrible but tastes delicious. I have decided to take their word for it.
As Ulsan is famous for its whaling history and traditions, the presence of whale meat was a surprise, but perhaps to be expected.
What I was NOT prepared for was to look up from the onions and cucumbers and see this lady calmly selling her “food”.
There are still a few restaurants here and there that sell 개고기 (dog meat).
I see these dogs every time I visit the market, and my heart breaks for them as they sit crammed into the tiny cages. I am not sure if they are being sold as meat, but as pets of this size are highly uncommon, I have a bad feeling these pups are headed to a restaurant instead of a loving home.
I will try many “strange” foods for the sake of experiencing another culture, but dog meat is where I draw the line. No thank you.
The Best Part of Market Day is The 호떡 (hoddeok)
What is this delectable looking Korean goodness? If a cinnamon roll and a pancake had offspring, this is what they would look like (or taste like). A sticky dough is made, stuffed with sugar, and sizzled to crispy deliciousness.
Actually, because I my great love for this Korean snack I have unofficially changed the name ‘Market Day’ to ‘Hoddeok Day’.
If you are feeling adventurous and want to try making some hoddeok of your own, take a look at this video for a great recipe.
My co-worker and I have become such regular customers at the hoddeok stand that instead of saying goodbye, we simply say 다음에 봐요 (see you next time).
The Namchang Market also brings with it the added bonus of the sock truck man. Haven’t you always wanted to buy socks off the back of a truck?
Have you eaten whale or dog meat, and where? If you haven’t, would you?