This time we’re heading back to Old Seoul for a bit of culture. A place where haggling transcends language barriers. To Namdaemun Market!
Namdaemun translates to “Great South Gate” (not Gareth Southgate, though you may be mistaken) and was the main southern gate to the old city of Seoul. Right next to the gate is a massive market complex selling just about anything you can imagine. Childrens clothes. Cookware. Street food. You name it, Namdaemun Market will probably have a stall selling it at a bargain basement price.
Think of a typical market in this country and you’ll conjure up images of counterfit tracksuits and dodgy DVDs, but plenty of the stuff on sale in Namdaemun is the genuine article, often made in Korea. Lots stalls and shops sell similar items which puts the power back in the hands of the shopper. Don’t like the price in this stall? Walk a few metres and you might find the exact same item for 10 to 20 percent less. The items often lack price tags so asking around a few places is the only way to gauge how much you should be paying. Fail to haggle, haggle to fail? That one doesn’t quite work.
In my travels throughout Asia, the most critical instrument at any market stall is the mighty calculator. Asking how much something costs will be met by a flurry of key presses and a display showing you how much you’re not willing to pay. Or maybe that’s just me. It does make these places accessible even with the language barrier. Show me a number. I might not like it, but I know what it says. Cash is still king in markets, and on a few occasions I encountered one price for card, and another more significantly discounted price for cash payments. I suspect the tax man knows a fraction of the transactions that go on in the markets.
The food selection is great, too. One of the most popular street food choices is hotteok, a fried pancake filled with brown sugar and nuts. It is a delicious, if heartburn inducing, choice for food on a night out and usually sold during the colder months. We also tried a range of dumplings and steamed buns that were also delicious. Tteokbokki is another favourite and features chewy rice cakes served in a spicy gochujang-based sauce, although I only tried it in the sanitised cafeteria of the spa resort we visited. Next year I might seek out the genuine article.
It’s easy to spend hours wandering around the chaotic alleyways and stores that make up Namdaemun, looking for nothing in particular. If you’re after something specific there are tourist information helpers who can point you in the direction of the stall or store you’re looking for. We made a second trip to the market to find baby hanbok (traditional Korean clothes) for our daughter and, of course, there were myriad choices.
The narrow streets do not admit large vehicles, so goods are transported on the back of modified bikes or, more literally, on the back. The backs of delivery men who carry boxes up multiple flights of stairs in buildings with no elevator. The contrast between the high tech, polished lines of malls in Gangnam couldn’t be more stark.
Socks, weirdly, are also massive there. A pair of socks made in Korea with a major licensed design could often be had for under £2. They’re either taking a tiny cut, or the socks cost next to nothing to produce. This is the place to stock up if you’re looking for your lifetime supply.
That’s enough Korea for now. Let’s head back home for a little Christmas tradition.
We always had a loaf of Nutty Krust in the house around Christmas. It makes excellent breadcrumbs, and it cannot be beaten toasted over an open fire. Unfortunately batch loaves are not much of a thing in the South West, but that’s not the end of the story. Life, uh, finds a way, and I found a recipe. GastroGays have a lot of great content including a straightforward recipe for classic batch loaves. I’ve been using lard instead of beef dripping for convenience, but the rest of the ingredients are easily sourced. The bread makes excellent toast, and is a great sandwich loaf too. I took the loaves out earlier than suggested as the crust can get rather tough when properly blackened, but the bread was still delicious. It’s worth giving it a try if you, like me, miss the Nutty Krust experience.
Resident Evil 7
It took some time to get back to it, but we finally finished Resident Evil 7 on the PS4. Overall it is a fantastic game, but prepare to be terrified. We spent most of the time jumping at every extraneous noise, including our own footsteps. There are plenty of great boss fights and fun weapons to use, and even an escape room game nested within the story. It’s definitely worth a try if you’re a fan of Resident Evil games or the horror genre in general. Playing it in VR is an option, and that might be enough to kill me.
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