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Thursday, October 27, 2011

(Gimbap) Drug Wars in Gwangjang Market

Sunday afternoon. In this dark alley of Gwangjang Market, all shops are closed except Monyeo Gimbap.

Surprise: hundreds of people are queueing for their fabled "mayak gimbap" (this "drug gimbap" owes its name to its supposedly addictive flavor). It took us over thirty minutes to get our fix, and we're in the dead middle of the afternoon ! Check it out :

Each dose costs KRW 2,500 and comprises 8 mini-rolls (not sliced) packed in a plastic box, along with one portion of mustardish sauce and two toothpicks (to make the injections as safe as possible).

Business is good: the dealers have hardly time to chat before moving to the next junkie, and even if they restrict two doses per head, their big metal buckets are quickly emptied. The boss then rides his motorbike to the lab and comes back five minutes later.

I'm not at all an expert in drugs but frankly, this one didn't make me fly. Yet I love gimbap and this one is more than ok. I liked the way they cut the carrots, in thin julienne instead of one big stick. The 'vinaigrette' may taste exotic to Korean palates, less to a French one.

As you can notice on the above video, the atmosphere is rather grim because this part of the market doesn't work on Sundays. Monyeo Gimbap is still located in the center, but fellow merchants recently told them to move their point of sale: the JoongAng Ilbo made a paper on their 'drug', and packs of new customers arrived, congesting the whole street all day long, every day of the week.

Yet nature abhors a vacuum, and rival dealers have been proposing their own 'mayak gimbap' long before the article. I saw four or five of those, even one specialized in kids (boy are drug dealers shameless marketers !). More than a few peopled queued there too, oblivious of the fact that this was not the real stuff.

Note that another joint recommanded by JoongAng Ilbo, Sunhuinae Bindaetteok, doesn't draw as many visitors, so it didn't have to leave the bindaetteok alley of the market. Jongno Bindaetteok remains my favorite, but theirs tastes - and looks - very good too :

The heart of Gwangjang Market is open on weekends, and the food section remains one of my favorit visits. But the atmosphere cannot be compared to week days : this old market is much more lively, and all kinds of people working in the area come to feast joyfully on great pig feet, sundae, bindaetteok, pajeon, and yes gimbap.

Monyeo Gimbap (머녀 김밥)
(the authentic 'mayak gimbap' - 원조 마약 김밥)
Tel +82.2.2264.7668
Sunhuinae Bindaetteok (순희네빈대떡)
Tel +82.2.2268.3334
Gwangjang Market, Yeji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK

Seoul Village 2011
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