At Jeil Market, pots, pans, squid jerky, the world
UIJEONGBU SOUTH KOREA -- Everything from apples and blankets to squid jerky and visors can be found under one "roof" at the Uijeongbu's Jeil Market.
Shortly after I arrived at Camp Red Cloud this spring I started taking walks through my new town. On my second journey I stumbled across a veritable feast for the senses -- Uijeongbu's Jeil, or "First" Market. It consists of a farmer's market, push-cart eateries, general store and parking garage.
Since the market is just a short seven-minute walk east of the Uijeongbu train station a car isn't needed to get there, but if you have one, the garage is convenient if you want to stock up.
And stock up you can at the four-block market, which is actually contained in and between four buildings that house numerous shops and alley stalls.
The shops and stalls, which are two blocks from Uijeongbu's pedestrian mall, or Hangbokro, are packed with just about anything you need.
In one of the many shops that's stacked to the ceiling with pillows, linen and comforters, I bought a pillow shaped like a bug to prop my feet on.
Need plates, pots or knives? This market has them and more.
At the farmer's market section, I found fruits and vegetables to be much fresher and cheaper than in Korean chain grocery stores. My last trip to the market I got some cherries and grapes that were as good as any I ever had.
Walk north and you hit the seafood section.
The "freshness" of your fish depends on which stall you go to. At some you can dip into a tank and take home live fish to cook for dinner. Others have a big variety of fish that have already been killed.
If you're looking to flavor your soup, there are plenty of stalls that will sell you dried seafood -- fish, octopus and shrimp. I recommend you try the squid jerky. It's good and tastes nothing like chicken.
If, however, chicken is what you want, chicken you can certainly get. Don't worry, you won't have to take them home live. The ladies have already plucked and cleaned them for you.
If you can't wait until you get home to eat, there is plenty of prepared food at the market. They have the normal sit-on-the-floor restaurants, as well as the "push cart" style. Pull up a stool and you can watch as your food is prepared and then eat right at the counter. They have bowls of noodles and plates of tteok-bokki, a slightly spicy rice cake. I found a new favorite of mine at the western entrance to the market -- a corn dog wrapped with French fries and then deep fried. Corn dog and French fries in one bite, I don't know why we don't have these in America.
In the center of the market is another one of my favorites, dried mangos (a love affair that was started during a tour to Honduras when I was able to pick them fresh from the tree).
The ladies that work these stalls may not know a lot of English, but they do know the English words for the wide variety of dried fruit they sell. I just wish I knew enough Korean to know what the lady said to the other sellers when I bought my first bag of mangos. Whatever it was it made them all giggle.
I took that as my cue to keep moving and check out the rest of the market and the wide variety of clothes they have, from traditional ceremonial outfits to modern western style tees and jeans.
On my next trip to the market I'm going to look for a visor to mail home to my mom. I wish that my nieces and nephews were still young enough for me to buy them some of the colorful galoshes that hang in the market's shoe shops.
If you're unable to get to Uijeongbu's Jeil Market, I suggest you check in the town outside your installation for a traditional market. Most Korean cities have their own, such as Seoul's Namdaemun, or "Great South Gate" Market, and Daegu's Seomun, or "West Gate," Market.
They're a great place to get lost for the day, take some memorable pictures, and be immersed in Korea's food and culture while your military service affords you the chance.