The place in Seoul most near and dear to my heart is my very own neighborhood, Hwanghak-dong, 황학동. While it's a neighbor to Dongdaemun market which is a ubiquitous tourist destination, it's hard to see any westerners roaming the streets back here. Its winding back alleys and commercial feel doesn't get it on to any tourist maps, but that doesn't mean you should overlook this neighborhood. As I walk through the back alleys every day I can't help but wonder if this is what all of Seoul looked like 30 years ago? If I were to take a time machine to Seoul, 1975, how much would have really changed?
The neighborhood, while selling a huge variety of things, seems to specialize in restaurant equipment. Piles of dishes, pots, tables, industrial sized stoves and sinks, decor, the list doesn't end. Every new backstreet brings a new surprise.
But that's not all this tiny, two block wide neighborhood has to offer. Jungang Market, 중앙시장, is the place to go for all your food needs. We don't buy our fruits and vegetables in the chain supermarkets any more because it's just much cheaper in the market. I also feel really good supporting this local market rather than big corporations. Jungang market has been featured in my blog before, so check out that if you're looking for more info and photos.
As you continue to wander through the alleys, there's all sorts of unexpected finds. Ddeok shops, machinery shops, at night the 곱창, grilled intestine restaurants, open full swing, not to mention the the feeling of having traveled back in time. While visiting many places in Seoul it's easy to get the feeling that Seoul is a modern city full of endless rows of apartment buildings and skyscrapers. So, I highly recommend seeing a different side of Seoul by visiting Hwanghak-dong, or any of the other older neighborhoods of the city.
It's still possible to find old homes, traditional markets and a slower pace of life by just stepping off the main streets and exploring some backstreets. You will probably be quite amazed by what you find!
Come to Hwanghak-dong by taking Line 2/6 to Sindang station. Go out exit 1, 2, 11 or 12 and you're there! Or, find it at the very end of the Dongdaemun night market by crossing the street at the intersection where the yellow tents end.