When most people hear the word “Haeundae”, the first thing that comes to mind is the beach. Then the restaurants. Then the fancy hotels. Then, maybe, the shopping. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that if they look in between all those streets of restaurants and hotels, they can get a glimpse into real-life everyday Korea, at Haeundae Market.
I love going to traditional markets in Korea for a few different reasons. I love seeing all the crazy things that they have for sale, I love watching people going about their day to day business in this one-time unknown environment, I love the energy(and slight aggression) of the sellers trying to haul people over to their stand, and most of all, I love the street food, and can never resist picking up a little treat for myself like some hoddeok or tteokbboki.
On Saturday, I headed to Haeundae Beach to fit in a bit of last minute sunbathing before the monsoon rains started this week. My friend was running a bit late, so I decided to kill time wandering through Haeundae Market while I waited.
You’ll either love or hate Haeundae but it’s the sort of place that you need to visit at least once in Korea to fully understand the culture. Here’s a sneak peak at what you can see!
Strange Sea Creatures
There are a lot of things to see at Haeundae Market. Busan is a seaside city so, naturally, one of the main draws to this market is the amount of fresh seafood available. It’s not uncommon to see really weird seafood that you can’t recognise. Actually, it’s much less common to see things that you do recognise.
When I first learned that seafood was often eaten ALIVE in South Korea, I had some pretty heavy culture shock. But I was intrigued all at the same time and decided to put it on my bucketlist though, I have since removed it because I think it’s quite cruel. The most common dish is live octopus, but eel is also popular. The guy in the picture is grabbing a squirming eel out it’s tank that he will then skin alive and serve straight up to diners- ouch!
Even in the non-seafood sections, you can find some pretty strange things. I have absolutely no idea why these eggs are black?! How did they get that way? Someone please enlighten me!
Ok, so now we’re on to the more appealing things about the market. You know, things you actually might even want to put into your mouth?! Haeundae market is a great place to try new foods because it’s cheap and most stands have English menus.
One of the best value foods for budget travellers in Korea to try is mandu. Similar to Chinese dim-sum, mandu is a type of dumpling that is usually served steamed, but sometimes fried (yum.) The most popular filling is pork and vegetable but kimchi mandu is also really popular here. Mandu vendors are always easy to spot with their huge steaming pots outside.
One of my favourite Korean foods is jeon– if you come to Korea, you need to get some jeon in your life! Korean’s often refer to Pajeon as “Korean Pizza” but don’t expect any cheese or marinara sauce. I’d describe it more as a savoury pancake. Pajeon, the most commonly found jeon, is a green onion pancake which Korean’s like to eat on rainy days, or after hiking. My favourite jeon is kimchi jeon which is (obviously) a kimchi pancake. That would have been my idea of hell when I first arrived but now that I’m practically Korean, I love it! Haeundae Market has so much jeon!
No matter where you go for street food in the country, you can always expect to find the same few things. Tteokbboki (chewy rice cakes in a spicy chilli sauce), o-daeng (Korean fishcakes), sundae (Korean blood sausage) and twiggim (Korean style tempura.) These stands are usually filled with middle school students, old grandmothers and everyone in between all grabbing something quick and filling to keep them going through their busy day. Haeundae Market is no different.
I find it impossible to go to a street food place without picking up some hoddeok. It’s without a doubt my absolute favourite street food, and my favourite Korean dessert. Hoddeok is another type of pancake which is filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and seeds. It’s then fried until the brown sugar turns into a runny caramel and served extremely hot. It’s definitely not the best thing in the world for you, but I honestly couldn’t care less.
If you’re ever about the Haeundae beach area, I definitely recommend that you peel yourself from your sunbed and pay Haeundae Market a visit. It’s definitely a unique cultural experience and the perfect place to sample some authentic Korean street food on a budget.
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Over to you! What Korean street food would you like to try?