Garak Market

2012-09-05

On Seoul’s far southeastern end is one of the country’s largest public wholesale markets. Encompassing over half a million square meters, Garak Market is where to go to find great deals on produce, meat, fish and dried spices and other goods.

Operated by the Seoul Agricultural and Marine Products Corporation, the market was established in 1985 as Korea’s first public wholesale facility. If the trek to the market isn’t too inconvenient, and if you’re willing to haggle a bit to get the best price, you can typically emerge with fresh, cheap and delicious produce. Given this year’s paltry harvests and rising food prices, such deals seem all the more important!

To be honest, the sheer size of Garak Market can be overwhelming. Unlike most Korean public markets, Garak is actually just a series of huge warehouses with individual vendors selling their wares in stalls located near the exits. These stalls spill outside the buildings into the main covered thoroughfares. I visited the market during the peak summer vacation week, so the number of vendors and customers was relatively low.

Nevertheless, especially at this time of year, it’s fun to see the beautiful apples and pears, huge watermelons and dainty plums stacked neatly or simply packed together in a box ready for a wholesale customer. Although most of us probably aren’t in the market for 30 peaches, merchants are usually happy to sell you their wares in retail quantities. What’s more, even beyond produce, while its size and fame are eclipsed by the Noryangjin fish market, Garak’s seafood aisles are on a similar scale.

Like most of these huge and vibrant public markets, activity occurs at all hours, with freight trucks filled to the brim with fresh meats and produce arriving each night in time for the auctions, which typically run between 6 and 9 pm. Afterwards, the market may lose its customer traffic, but that’s more than compensated for by the heavy truck traffic that will continue until the wee hours of the next morning.

Even if you’re only in the mood for eye shopping, it’s quite a spectacle. The busy merchants can be both playful and a little prickly, but I think it’s just a negotiating technique. If you really are in the mood for produce, don’t be shy about asking for a taste of what’s on offer. It’s common sense, but if the vendor doesn’t want to let you taste his product, chances are it’s not very good.

Driving around the complex, large parts are fenced off, a sign of big changes at Garak. If artist renderings are to be believed, the market is due for a remarkable transformation over the next few years. Recast as a “green market,” the eco-friendly, luxury wholesale market is projected to handle some 2.4 million tons of agro-marine products every year with a huge park located on its roof. The ambitious project is slated to finish by 2018. Given the massive scale and lengthy timeline, the city is conducting the remodel in phases to cut down on inconveniences to merchants and area residents, alike.

So, who knows? In a few years, Seoul may be home to the world’s largest eco-friendly market.


GETTING THERE
Garak Market can be reached via Garak Market Station on Line 8, (exit #4).

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