There's a street in downtown Seoul where all a baker's dreams come true. Especially if you're an American expat desperate for some damn cupcakes. It's cramped, winding, like a crack between the buildings. But it is absolutely packed with things to make your inner foodie salivate. I'm talking about Bangsan Market. A hefty chunk is devoted to specialty wrapping papers, but there's also industrial kitchen appliances and cardboard packaging. In addition, the market has gained a reputation as a mecca for westerners on the hunt for cooking supplies, thanks to the fabled Baker's Alley.
Erin and I went back in March. We didn't have a reason to go, really, other than that we both love cooking and South Korea has a dearth of good kitchen supply stores. We'd learned about Bangsan Market online, recommended as a great place for hard to find ingredients.
We arrived in early afternoon as things were in full swing. People packed the crowded narrows, digging through pots and pans, cookie cutters, and ovens. Baker's alley was ludicrously small, a rambling, knotty tendril of kitchen goods and ingredients. Vendors piled their wares in any available space. There was barely room for two people to pass each other.
Erin was right in her element. She slipped in and out of tiny stores like a kid exploring the presents under a Christmas tree. She had to be dragged away from one place selling cake pans and pastry trays. So shiny! In the next, she stared in awe at all the ingredients we'd been missing: vanilla extract, sour cream, taco spices, and specialty flours. She was like a tiny, curious mouse climbing around a warren of kitchen goods, where everything was magical and delicious and sparkly.
I had a slightly different experience. Mostly because I am larger than she is. Bangsan Market was never designed with 6ft westerners in mind. I had to stoop and turn sideways just to fit through doorways. I filled the narrow lanes like a roadblock with feet. There was no leisurely stroll through the goods for me. Any time I stopped to finger a nice pot, a conga line of little old ladies appeared and elbowed my kidneys. Hard. Because I was apparently standing in front of something they desperately wanted. And they all managed to look sour about it, too, like I'd chosen to inconvenience them personally out of malice.
But just because I had a cramped experience, don't let that put you off the market. It is full of fantastic nooks and crannies stuffed with rare and hard to find supplies. It is an awesome place to explore. Just bring some patience and a slim build. If you're bigger, be prepared to get elbowed. And beware the little old ladies. They are fierce and take no prisoners.
How to get there: Take line number 1, the dark blue line, to Jongno 5 ga station. Take exit 7 and walk south toward the river. Just across, hang a right and burrow into the neighborhood. Alternatively, keep going west till you see the massive archway marking the entrance to the market.
Here's a helpful map for reference.