It’s hard to keep a level head at Seoul’s sprawling 109-year-old Gwangjang market (6-1 Yeji-dong, Jongno-gu), where thousands of eateries offer a kaleidoscopic array of Korean soul food. Wander its arcades and lose yourself in the maze of stalls selling steamed pork and kimchi dumplings; kimbap, rice and seaweed rolls stuffed with pickled vegetables; yukhoe, steak tartare; and dozens of iterations of braised pork—trotters, sausages, shoulder—paired with chewy rice cakes in a chile-spiked sauce. One vendor cuts noodles for customers to slurp from a rich chicken broth. Nearby, another prepares the ultimate bibimbap, scattering fenugreek shoots, young mixed lettuces, velvety blanched winter melon, and a confetti of julienned nori seaweed over steamed rice before topping it all off with a brick-red purée of chiles and fermented soybeans. An alliance of crunchy and yielding textures, pungent and spicy tastes, the dish is like the market itself: powerful, scintillating, symphonic.
Christopher Tan is a writer and photographer based in Singapore.