Living in Korea requires a few compromises, especially in finding some things from home. Sure, there are plenty of Korean equivalents for virtually everything during your daily life, but sometimes you need something specific. While Seoul has the lion’s share of shops dedicated to exports, other cities have a center or two for finding a few tastes from home.
Within Seoul, at least four places offer a good to excellent variety of foreign products – assuming, of course, you’ve looked at the local department stores (e.g. Emart, Homeplus, Lotte Mart, and that old standby Costco) and come up empty.
High Street Market – a meat importer, a wine importer, and a cheese importer came together and made a baby in Itaewon. Beyond those areas, there’s plenty of craft beer, junk food, and snacks for your perusing pleasure. Bonus: barrels of discounted wine because the labels aren’t perfect.
A nice selection of craft beers as well – this isn’t as much a taste from home as it is a pleasant break from otherwise crappy Korean beer.
While the rest of their selection is fairly ordinary, the bakery puts out some excellent breads and other freshness.
Sample pricing: pepperoni (100 grams): 2,500 won; Jelly Belly’s (100 grams): 2,900 won.
Address: Seoul Yongsan-gu Hannam-dong 737-24 (서울특별시 용산구 한남동 737-24).
Directions: Itaewon station, line 6, exit 2. Follow the sidewalk around the left curve for about 400 meters. Look for it on the left, on the 2nd floor.
National Foods – more like a supermarket, this Itaewon store is the newest entry in the ‘foreign foods’ category. There’s plenty of their own branded products – primarily nuts and dried fruits – to complement the selection of Kirkland / Costco products available. This is pretty good news to those without Costco memberships, and great for people like me in central Seoul. The nearest Costco is a long way away. If you follow me on Twitter (hint hint), you might have seen a tweet about there being Girl Scout Cookies available here as of my last visit.
Sample pricing: basil pesto (500 grams): 12,000 won. Cashew nuts (200 grams): 4,000 won.
Address: Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong 132-2 (서울특별시 용산구 이태원동 132-2).
Directions: Itaewon station, line 6, exit 3. Turn right at the Dunkin Donuts and walk up the hill about 75 meters – it’s on your right.
Foreign Food Mart – an institution of Itaewon, and still one of the best varieties of foreign foods. Plenty of frozen stuff, and a wide selection from other parts of Asia. While pricing is competitive across the Itaewon stores, most prices seem a few hundred won lower here. I get the feeling the guy ‘shops’ the other stores in an effort to price things a little bit lower. One disadvantage: narrow aisles, which contributes to plenty of crowding and ‘excuse me’s’.
Sample pricing: grenadine (750 ml): 7,500 won.
Address: Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong, 137-67. (서울특별시 용산구 이태원동 137-67).
Directions: Itaewon station, line 6, exit 3. Turn right at the Dunkin Donuts and walk up the hill about 100 meters – it’s on your left.
Songtan – the multi-cultural town that exists courtesy of the military presence has a few shops. While they’re little more than booths in a larger Korean-style market, there’s plenty of stuff in them to make it worth your while. This presumes, of course, you’re in the area – Songtan is a good hour south ofSeoul. If you are, however, there’s plenty of hair care and beauty products to go along with the alcohol and snacks.
Directions: Songtan station, line 1, exit 4. Cross the street, then walk up the hill and turn right. You should see a large colorful mural, which you’ll pass on your way. Walk about 350 meters and keep straight to Jungang Market.
Dongdaemun / Namdaemun – ’nuff said. While the shops are scattered across the many square blocks of these two shopping behemoths, they have most of the tastes your buds are looking for. Unlike the Itaewon stores, the prices aren’t as well marked, and may be subject to some negotiation. This is the point where you’ll have to set aside your love of food to put on your poker face and bargain a bit. Start on the street just behind the camera street, near Namdaemun Market’s gate 8, or point your maps to this address: 서울특별시 중구 남창동 51-1 (Seoul, Jung-gu, Namchang-dong 51-1). This is the 숭례문수입상가, or the Sungnyemun import market – plenty of booths feature food and alcohol. If you keep heading down the same street, you’ll see a few more vendors with similar wares.
Saruga shopping mall – plenty of imported stuff expats miss from home. While trivial to some, this is the last place I saw Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in Seoul. It’s close to Hongdae and northeast Seoul. It’s expensive, but there’s plenty of selections to choose from.
Address: Seoul, Seodaemun-gu, Yeonhui-dong 131-1 (서울특별시 서대문구 연희동 131-1)
Directions: Hongik Universitystation, line 2 or AREX, exits 2 or 8. Come out of either exit, then make a U-turn and head to the bus stop in the middle of the road. Hop on green bus 7612 and ride to the 연희삼거리 (Yeonhee Samgeori) bus stop. Backtrack to the main road. At the intersection, cross the side street and continue backtracking along the main. When you get to the KEB, turn right. Walk 30 meters to the first intersection, and the shopping center is on the corner.
수입코너 (su-ib ko-neo) – part of the Seo-rae village, or the French village in Seoul, this import market has a little bit of everything.
Address: Seoul, Gangnam-gu, Banpo-dong, 31 Seorae-ro (서울특별시 강남구 반포동 서래로 31)
Directions: Express Bus Terminal station, line 3, 7, or 9, exit 5 (best reached through line 7). Cross the street to the left, then turn right and pass a hotel on your left. Look for Seorae-ro, the main street that runs through the French village. Walk about 300 meters and look for it on your right.