Seomun Night Market in Daegu aims to become a tourist hotspot

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 13, 2016 - 14:44
  • Updated : Jul 13, 2016 - 14:45
Ever since the Seomun Night Market first turned on its lights on June 3, the nighttime skies above Daegu have remained as bright and welcoming as the noonday sun.

Selected as the first “Global Luxury Market” in a contest hosted by the Small and Medium Business Administration, the Seomun Night Market is the largest night market in Korea, with over 80 sellers, 65 types of food, 15 official product categories, and countless vendors and stalls. 

Seomun market, Daegu, South Korea (Yonhap)
In addition to having a wide variety of food that is sure to please even the pickiest palate, Seomun Night Market is also rapidly gaining attention for its wealth of cultural and artistic offerings, including live portrait art, nail art, handicrafts, handmade goods, and live performances in numerous genres such as fusion music, mime performances, plays and dance contests. 

The market, located inside the larger Seomun Market venue, is a short walk from exits 2 and 3 of Seomun Market Station on Daegu Metro Line 3. It is easy to find thanks to the steady stream of visitors that pour into the market from the station each evening.

In Korea, the term “traditional market” often brings to mind one of two conflicting images. To some, the term evokes the images of a rustic, working-class market full of energy, warmth, and heart; to others, it conveys a negative stereotype of being rough, unkempt, and unhygienic. 

The second image will quickly fade away as soon as you step into the market, with its central aisle flanked by neat and well-kept yellow stalls. As you make your way deeper into the market, you will soon find yourself enveloped in a gentle breeze, which cools off visitors and makes the market seem even more pleasant, fresh and inviting.

At the food section of the night market, local residents, many of whom have come to the market to do some nighttime shopping as part of an evening out, can be seen standing in line at popular stalls to order food or sitting in small groups munching on the local market fare. Food stalls at the market offer a huge selection of snacks and meals to lure hungry visitors.

In addition to foods such as tteokbokki and sundae, which are customarily served at most markets in Korea, the Seomun Night Market also offers a more exotic selection such as yukpo, samgyeopmari, makchang bokkeum, and hanayaki. 

Thanks to the wide menu selection, which also include children’s favorites like waffles and bingsu, many customers are families looking to have dinner while taking a break from shopping. One of the many reasons behind the night market’s popularity is that most of the stall owners are young people in their 20s and 30s who know how to cater to modern tastes by offering fusion and other creative dishes. 

Fusion food options mix and match Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Western dishes. The diverse options ranging from fried chicken to barbecue, grilled skewers, jjambbong, tonkatsu and steak, are particularly popular among market-goers.

Operators of the portable night market stalls are entrepreneurs who successfully passed through a series of highly competitive procedures. A total of 923 applicants applied for the stalls, but there were only 80 spots available. 

Yoon Jung-wook, 39, who came from Dalseo-gu with his family to do some night shopping at the market said, “Because of my job, it’s hard to travel, and I don’t have many vacation days. But here, it’s like a fun mini-vacation because we can try out all sorts of foods.” 

Yoon also said, “Recently, I’ve been coming to the night market a lot in order to feel the distinct vibe of a bustling traditional market and enjoy the summer evenings.”

An increasing number of foreign tourists are visiting the Seomun Night Market, suggesting that the market is strengthening its position as a tourist spot beyond Daegu.

Among the foreign visitors one evening were two English teachers from a private institute in Seoul: Wei, 29, who is Chinese-American, and Jian, 28, who is Chinese. 

Jian said, “Most Chinese tourists who come to Korea focus on shopping in Seoul. I really wanted to explore more of the country, which brought me here to Daegu’s night market.” 

He said, “I am currently traveling through several parts of North Gyeongsang Province including Daegu. Seomun Night Market is interesting because it is similar to Chinese markets in some ways, but very different in other ways.”

“Chinese markets have some of the same foods, but the Seomun Night Market has a much wider variety of things to eat, such as fusion food. It also has so many places to shop -- one day is not enough to see everything Seomun Night Market has to offer.”

Wei, who accompanied Jian to the Seomun Night Market, said, “I really like the Korean food that is sold at traditional markets like this.” 

“The food served at markets has a distinct taste that seems to come from the market atmosphere. The atmosphere of Seomun Night Market is particularly energetic and lively,” Wei added.

Just a short walking distance from the food stalls are clusters of accessories, craft, and clothing stalls selling a wide array of handmade products and crafts. Shops selling clothing and shoes are particularly busy, full of young female customers seeking fashion items at reasonable prices.
An accessory shop owner surnamed Park said, “Although not as popular as the food stalls, the number of visitors who come here to the clothing and accessory shops looking for good products at bargain prices has increased sharply thanks to the night market.” 

Park noted, “Despite the slow economy, thanks to the Daegu residents and tourists who keep coming to the Seomun Market, it feels like the entire city is more ‘alive.’”

Aside from being a shopper’s paradise, the Seomun Night Market is also the scene of nightly performances by young artists representing a wide variety of genres, including fusion bands, mimes, plays and dance contests. The parking building inside the night market even has a media section featuring cutting-edge video screens, adding to the festive mood of the market each night.

Ever since its official opening in early June, the Seomun Night Market is gaining reputation as a hotspot among local and foreign tourists.

Furthermore, Daegu Metropolitan City has established a comprehensive delivery system for market customers, integrating pre-order, delivery and online payment services into a single service. The city is also implementing other measures to ensure the success of the night market and improve the convenience for shoppers and has already established an on-site automatic refund system that provides duty-free benefits for foreign tourists who make small purchases at the market. 

Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin, speaking in a congratulatory address at the opening ceremony of the Seomun Night Market on June 3, said, “It is my hope that the night market will breathe new life into Seomun Market and help revitalize the local economy as well as become a world-class traditional market that attracts many domestic and foreign tourists.”

The night market’s strong start is boosting expectations that the Seomun Night Market will emerge as a new international tourist hotspot.