Meaning “blue lake” in Korean, the neighborhood of Cheongdam-dong is oft mentioned in tandem with Apgujeong, both frequently billed on tourism websites as the “Beverly Hills of Seoul” for its luxury goods, collection of art galleries and upper-class residents. Unexpectedly, hidden beneath its ritzy streets is a little secret: a market showcasing fresh produce, handmade traditional treats and wines from varying provinces throughout Korea.
Unexpectedly, hidden beneath the ritzy streets of Cheongdam is a little secret: a market showcasing fresh produce, handmade traditional treats and wines from varying provinces throughout Korea.
First introduced in July 2009, the Jangteo Yeolcha (장터열차), or metro market, is a novelty in that products are sold directly out of a series of subway cars in an unused central lane at Cheongdam Station on metro line number 7. Air-conditioned and tucked away from the rain or heat, you can take your time browsing though a wide range of brightly-colored vegetables, fruits, dried sea foods, meats and poultry, as well as handmade snacks. The day I visited, specialties from the Gangwon province were on display. Beyond the staple produce and seafood items, there were fresh steamed corn, chewy rice cakes and warm red bean buns ready to be purchased and promptly consumed. In another car, one vendor offered a fast and easy dinner option with DIY kits of the famed Chuncheon dakgalbi. Marinade, chopped chicken, green onions, rice cake and chunks of sweet potato were sold as a package to be sizzled on the stove at home.
Although commonly found in chain groceries and typical neighborhood ddeok shops, the yakgwa sweets at the metro market that day were particularly tasty. From prior experience, I have found that the ones normally sold are rather flavorless and lacking texture, each one cut precisely alike in size and shape. By contrast, these flower-shaped cookies had a homemade appearance, each one slightly different in form from the next. Personally representing the handmade sweets bearing her name, Jang Chun-hee proudly informed me that hers were different from the ones commonly found in stores. According to Jang, most yakgwas are made for presentation—neatly stacked into pretty centerpieces at traditional Korean rituals and later discarded. Chun-hee Yakgwa, by contrast, are made to be eaten and enjoyed.
Held four times a month from Tuesday to Thursday, goods are sold from 3 pm to 8 pm at the Metro Market. This week (July 19–21) will feature vendors hailing from the South Jeolla and North Chungcheong provinces. The final week of July will feature specialties from all eight provinces. Oftentimes, the products are attractively packaged for gift-giving—an excellent idea to keep in mind for upcoming Korean holidays, such as Chuseok. You’ll find all of this and an inventive way to get to know the friendly personalities and regional flavors of the Korean countryside, just a train platform away.