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Seomun Market: Foodie's paradise in Daegu

According to Yonhap News,

(DAEGU=Yonhap News) After dusk, merchants of Seomun Market clean up their stores and dispose of waste to get ready to call it a day at the busy, bustling marketplace.

As day slowly turns into evening, yellow food stalls show up along the main street of the market and light up one by one. Time to get started. Some heat up a large frying pan on a gas stove, others make frying batter in a big bowl and chop up vegetables.

The main gate of Seomun Market in Daegu (Yonhap) The main gate of Seomun Market in Daegu (Yonhap)

After 7 p.m., a growing number of people wander around on the hunt for mouthwatering street food of all kinds: spicy octopus skewers, bowls of chicken feet, chocolate-banana filled crepe and shaved ice with fresh fruit.

There are also quirky dishes that are a twist on traditional recipes, including samgyeopsal gimbap (Korean pork belly BBQ rolled in dried seaweed with garlic, green onion and ssamjang); a hotdog covered with ramyeon crust; deep fried vanilla ice cream and nitrogen-infused ice coffee.

A festive mood builds as more people pour into the street and line up at popular food stalls, livening up the clamorous marketplace after dark.

"I got curious about this market after seeing unique snacks in my friends’ Twitter and Instagram posts," said Kim So-eun, a 22-year-old college student of Daegu, holding a bowl of popcorn chicken in one hand and lemonade in a light bulb bottle in another. "There are so many things I want to try, but I can't have them all at once. I'm definitely coming back to try other food next time."

Kim was one of many youngsters who were standing in long queues at many of the 80 stalls lined up along the night market.

Food stalls at Seomun Market sell a variety of popular street food, including snacks, desserts and fusion dishes. (Yonhap)

The traditional market in Daegu, located some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, operates from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., mostly trading textile, food and other household items on wholesale and retail platforms, but it has extended regular business hours till midnight since June.

The project aimed at rejuvenating the market turned out to be a huge success, drawing over 9 million visitors since opening, the provincial government estimated.

"We have selected the food carts based on reviews of their menus and business operation plan, so there is a great variety of unique food for people of all ages to enjoy," Park Byung-il, a senior official at the shoppers' association, said.

It was an encouraging moment for the traditional market that has grappled with a falling number of visitors over the past years in the face of tougher competition with large discount stores and online shopping malls.

Shoppers flock to Seomun Market's night market in this photo taken on July 29, 2016. (Yonhap)

Seomun (west gate) Market is one of the oldest and largest markets in South Korea, dating back to the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It took its current form in 1920 and went through a series of renovations over the past decades to include modern facilities, parking space and amenities. It has over 4,600 shops with some 20,000 merchants in six wards covering a total of 65,000 square meters.

The market, also called "Big Market" by locals, was the main platform for the nation's fashion industry while Daegu had a thriving textile industry in the 1960s-80s, also selling a variety of food and household items.

Seomun Market is crowded with shoppers before the Chuseok holiday on Sept. 12, 2016. (Yonhap)

While the night market is most popular for its street food, it has also has become a playground for local artists and performers.

"Before the night market opened, Seomun Market was most visited by middle-aged customers. Now, we see a lot of youngsters and tourists. As a matter of fact, I've never seen so many people since I came here 13 years ago," Park said. "As more people come, they bring in more people and things to do and see. It creates a virtuous cycle."

Thanks to word-of-mouth and SNS postings, the market has emerged as a major tourism spot among foreigners eager to experience the local culture and cuisine.

Seomun Market holds cultural and entertainment events at night, drawing in visitors of all ages. (Yonhap)

"I don't like souvenir shops where many Chinese tourist groups are escorted by tour guides. Here, I bought clothes and a ginseng gift set at much cheaper prices," Cai Qian, a Chinese tourist, said. "I was a little surprised that this place turns from a traditional market to a something totally different. Having various street food and watching people on the street is a hilarious experience for a foreigner like me."

The market has become one of the must-visit places in the city, located within the walking distance of Dongseongno, a major fashion district for youngsters, the street of late folk singer Kim Kwang-seok and Gyesan Catholic Church, which was built over 100 years ago.

A monorail connects Seomun Market's main entrance. (Yonhap)

"During the weekends, people stay longer after the regular market closes. So we extended the store hours to attract shoppers who hang out after dark to have some fun," Lee Yong-suk, the 62-year-old owner of a dried fish shop, said. "It's always good for a market to have more people. It feels so lively."

Buoyed by the popularity, Daegu Metropolitan City said it will open a tax refund shop in January, which will sell popular items among foreigners, such as cosmetics, ginseng, dried seaweed and other local products. It is also seeking ways to open guest houses in the areas nearby.

A coachman of a neon-light horse-drawn carriage waits for passengers at Seomun Market on July 29, 2016. (Yonhap)

"When combined with the night market, a tax refund shop and accommodations, Seomun Market will grow into the cultural and tourism hot spot of Daegu," Chung Hye-woon, a city official in charge of the market's development, said. "We will expand support to make it a night tourism spot by linking it with nearby sightseeing places and upgrading amenities."

HOW TO GET THERE: Daegu is accessible by KTX train and express buses from major cities. Located at the center of the city, the market is connected to numerous bus lines, including 909, 840, 300, 836 and Express 1, 5, 6. Visitors can take Daegu Subway Line 3 (monorail) and exit at Seomun Market Station.

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Source: Yonhap News (Oct. 21, 2016)