Cheap eats can be hard to find in a city full of overpriced restaurants catering to Korea’s elite. That is why budget travelers must know about this fabulous local market in Seoul. Don’t expect a lot of atmosphere or service, but low price and great taste are guaranteed.TongIn_Market_Entrance.jpgLocated in one of the oldest neighborhoods in central Seoul, near Gyeongbokgung Palace, is a traditional market called Tongin Market. If you’re really on your last penny, this sure is the best place to be. 😉12920580605_bbfc10bbc2_kMuch smaller in size than that of Dongdaemun and Namdaemun markets, however, this market has its own specialty attraction called “Dosirak Cafe”. ‘Dosirak’, which means a lunch box in Korean. Inside these lunch boxes, Korean people usually put rice and various kinds of side dishes of their preference.

It’ll be much easier for you to think of Dosirak Cafe as a food court where you can pick food and snacks of your choice (they’re very, very cheap!) from different food stalls in Tongin Market and put them on one tray.12920987714_f9cb4c4805_kThis is why you will spot people walking over to different stalls while holding a plastic lunch tray. How strange! But, this system is what made the market gain huge popularity among both locals and foreign visitors alike. It’s quite fun if you actually try!
b0103808_50af38ab5ef41See the sign in the pic above? The sign is not written as Dosirak Cafe, but refers to a customer service center to be exact. Before you get started with your food tour, you must head over to the 2nd floor of customer service center, which is located in the center of the market. Here, look for a staff who sells tokens and Dosirak tray.12920678023_ccdfab7736_kYou will be using these tokens to buy the food items in the market. Usually, one side dish costs 1 or 2 tokens (one token = 500 KRW). Four or five of these (2,000 ~2,500 KRW) will be quite enough for a full meal!


These tokens look like ‘yeopjeon’, which are traditional old coins used back in Joseon Dynasty like in the second picture. Keep one or two as a souvenir. 🙂 Don’t worry if you run out of these tokens. You can still pay the food in cash.

During the weekends, the place bustles with people and the staff will most likely be standing at the entrance of the market selling tokens and trays. Take note that the tokens are only sold until 4 p.m. every day.CAM04895

Once you have filled your tray, head back to the customer service center and take a seat.

There are seats not only on the 2nd floor, but also on the 3rd floor (Pssst! Not many people know about this fact 😉 ). Once you get a seat, get rice and soup (each costs 2 tokens) from the second floor. Also, Kimchi is free at the cafe, so don’t buy it in the market.10802892_388932824609413_104562876_a


If you have some coins left, buy a drink like ‘Sikhye‘, a sweet juice made of rice (the same drink that is very popular in ‘Jjimjilbang‘, or Korean sauna).



If you like Korean street food, ‘tteokbokki (stir-fried spicy rice cakes’ for example, there’s a signature sit-in restaurant called ‘Wonjo Halmeoni Tteokbokki’ inside the Tongin Market. For more information, click here.

Those who want to try different kinds of Korean street foods in the local markets in Seoul without a hassle, check out this street food tour program accompanied by English-speaking local guides on Trazy, Korea’s #1 Travel Shop. For details, click here.

After you’re done enjoying your meal, take a stroll at Gyeongbokgung Palace or Bukchon Hanok Village nearby. You can reach these destinations in 15~30 mins on foot. 🙂button_main 2

Photo Credits
By LuvepoliOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By Republic of Korea, ‘Korea_Tongin_Market_02
By Republic of Korea, ‘Korea_Tongin_Market_09
By Republic of Korea, ‘Korea_Tongin_Market_01
By Republic of Korea, ‘Korea_Tongin_Market_02
By Republic of Korea, ‘Korea_Tongin_Market_04
By Republic of Korea, ‘Korea_Tongin_Market_06

5 thoughts on “Where is the #1 Place to Eat in Seoul When You Have Only $5?

  1. thanks for this guide. Will save it for future korea trip. I remember hearing about this in the korean show Human Condition but of course couldn’t find anything about it in english. many thanks

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