One of the hardest things to do when moving countries is reorganising and figuring out the necessities. Things like supermarket shopping are essential for almost everyone but at the same time can vary significantly from country to country.
When I first went to a Korean supermarket (Homeplus!) back in 2016, I was amazed and frustrated. Of course, there were terrific selections of foods like ramyun and cooking sauces. However, at the same time, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the price of meats and ‘exotic’ fruits.
While supermarkets may be largely similar between countries, many differences may force us to adopt new shopping habits. With that in mind, I wanted to put together a post today discussing everything that you need to know about supermarkets in Korea.
Whether you are looking for the cheapest supermarket in Korea or trying to find a specific food item that eludes you, I hope this article can help unshroud all of the mysteries surrounding grocery shopping on the peninsula.
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Types of Grocery Stores in Korea
Hypermarkets have a lot more than just groceries!
When it comes to grocery shopping in Korea, there are a few options. Let’s discuss them all before diving into what makes each supermarket unique!
- Hypermarket (대형 슈퍼마켓 – often simply called ‘마트’). These are the biggest supermarket chains in Korea. Really, they are much more than supermarkets. Hypermarkets contain everything from groceries to clothing to the latest electronics. They are made to be a one-stop shop for everything that you could ever need.
- Local Mart (동네 마트 or 슈퍼). These are the local stores that you will find all around Korea. They are usually locally owned and operated and are cheaper than hypermarkets but with less selection.
- Convenience stores (편의점). These aren’t really supermarkets, but they are a good last resort if you desperately need something at 2am! They have all of the essentials, but not much more.
- Markets (시장). Korea still has many traditional-style markets and many of these specialise in food. If you’re looking for the best side dishes and fresh produce, make sure to check them out! They’re often normally cheaper than the larger supermarkets.
Within hours of being in Korea, it’s likely that you will come across one of the big chains – especially the hypermarkets! Below is a table with the biggest chain stores in Korea that you should be familiar with. On top of these chains, you can expect to find a ton of local stores that sell all of the essentials but with less variety.
|No Brand (Emart)
Korean Supermarket Etiquette
While shopping in Korean grocery stores is quite similar to other countries overall, there are a few things worth keeping in mind. Some of these concepts may seem normal for you, but many of them were new (and surprising) for me!
- Supermarkets in Korea are usually closed on every month’s 2nd and 4th Sundays. This applies to even the biggest supermarkets. If you are in desperate need of something on either of these days, the local convenience store is your best bet.
- Plastic bags cost extra. Every large supermarket will have reusable bags for sale near the counter, and these are a much better alternative. They’re cheaper in the long run and also better for the environment!
- Many Korean supermarkets will have memberships. These can give special bonuses and will often provide discounts. Some supermarkets, like Costco, require membership to enter the store.
- Discount deals are prevalent in Korea. One of the most famous is 1+1 or 2+1. This means that if you buy one (or two), you will get one free!
- Supermarkets have delivery! All of the ‘Big 3’ (Emart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart) have a delivery service that can be used to deliver your groceries to your doorstep.
- Visit just before closing for some big discounts on perishable foods. This is most common at Homeplus, but other supermarkets also have deals at the end of the day.
- Each type of store specialises in something. Hypermarts are great for general shopping, local supermarkets are great for cheaper fruit and vegetables, and markets are great for pre-made dishes and fresh ingredients.
- Don’t just consider physical supermarkets. Korea has a ton of online delivery shopping options too. Even outside of Emart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart delivery, there are other choices such as Coupang and Gmarket.
- Some grocery stores in Korea, especially local ones, will give out bags that double as trash bags for the district they are located in. While the bags cost extra, the fact that they can double up as trash bags is beneficial!
- When using trolleys in Korea, it’s common to deposit 100won. This is a small way to ensure that the trolleys are correctly returned.
There are many other differences that you might notice while shopping in Korean supermarkets. However, these are some of the essentials that are worth knowing – they can make your life a lot easier!
Online Grocery Shopping in Korea
Homeplus’s online grocery website.
Korea is the land of convenience. While doing supermarket shopping online isn’t exactly unique to Korea, the efficiency in Korea is unparalleled. It’s often possible to get next day delivery. In fact, that’s almost always the case! The one exception is big holidays, when there may be some delays.
Emart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart all offer online supermarket shopping. In addition to these three, you can also do shopping on Coupang, Gmarket, GS Shop and Market Kurly. At the time of writing, all of these platforms with the exception of Gmarket are available only in Korean. They can be navigated with a combination of Papago and common sense (assuming you don’t speak Korean), but they can be frustrating to use.
On top of this, many of these platforms either won’t accept non-Korean payment methods or have very frustrating hoops to jump through. From my experience, Coupang and Gmarket are far easier to use than the alternatives. However, Gmarket is the only online grocery shopping platform in Korea that fully supports all international payment methods.
Sadly, the English version of Gmarket is still somewhat limited. Using the Korean version of the site, it’s possible to buy directly from supermarkets such as Homeplus, Lotte Mart and GS Fresh. While the English website does have some options, there is no denying that the Korean-language version of the site has a larger range of products.
If you are interested in trying online grocery shopping I would recommend choosing a platform and then finding a guide on how to use it. There are great guides online detailing exactly how to use all of these platforms.
Korean Grocery Chains
There are three primary supermarket chains in Korea. These are Emart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart. However, they’re much more than supermarkets and hence their name – hypermarkets. They are designed to have everything you can imagine. While they focus on food, you will find much more within.
While each hypermarket will differ slightly, they are similar in many respects. They usually have multiple floors, with each floor housing different goods. They will also have restaurants and cafes inside. For this reason, it’s easy to spend a lot of time at them!
All of these chains also have a lot of staff within and it’s easy to ask for help or navigation. In fact, when I recently visited Emart I think there were more staff than customers! If you can’t find something, it’s very easy to find someone who can assist.
Lotte. You can’t stay a day in Korea without having heard of or interacting with a Lotte product. This massive company is the same one that is behind Lotte Tower, Lotte World, and Lotte Foods… I guess the name suggested that. Anyway, Lotte is one of the largest chaebols in Korea, and they also have a large supermarket chain.
Lotte Mart is currently the third-largest ‘hypermarket’ within South Korea, just behind Emart and Homeplus, respectively. Lotte Mart sits between Emart and Homeplus in the length of establishment, and it has now become a mainstay in the Korean grocery store business.
With under 100 branches in Korea, Lotte Mart is smaller than Emart and Homeplus. However, it does have some unique benefits that make it worth shopping at! For one, it has some of the best fresh produce out of all of the supermarkets in Korea, including meat!
On top of this, Lotte Mart is also famous for some of its ready-to-eat food. The fried chicken from Lotte Mart is particularly popular as it’s affordable, comes in a large quantity, and is quite good! Even after trying a wide range of fried chicken from around Seoul, the Lotte Mart chicken is decent.
As with most of the big chains on this list, Lotte Mart is not a supermarket or grocery store. Instead, it’s a ‘hypermarket’ which is essentially a department store focusing on food items. While you can find a massive range of goods at Lotte Mart, they are most popular for their K-beauty section with many products from the top Korean cosmetic brands.
While Lotte Mart does have a discount line of food (similar to Emart’s Nobrand), it’s mostly known for higher-end and luxury food items. So if you are looking for something particularly fancy, then Lotte Mart is likely your best bet.
Lotte Mart’s most famous location is in Seoul Station. At this branch, you will find a ton of tourists and visitors to Korea purchasing all kinds of unique and wonderful Korean snacks. You can instantly get a tax refund within the supermarket if you have your passport. Since it’s conveniently located on the Airport Railway, it’s the perfect place to pick up some Korean food before departing!
Emart is the largest retailer in South Korea and is known very well across the whole country. If you’ve been in Korea for more than a few days, you’ve likely seen or heard about this supermarket chain. If you haven’t heard about Emart, perhaps you are more familiar with its parent company – Shinsegae (the department store chain with the current biggest department store in the world).
Emart has a lot of locations across the country, which is what makes it particularly popular. No matter where you are in the country, there is likely an Emart close by. This is especially true if you are within a larger city such as Seoul, Busan, or Daegu, where an Emart is never further than a few subway stops away!
Emart has 178 locations in Korea, and since it was founded in 1993, it is both the oldest and largest discount chain in Korea. Quite an achievement! However, what makes Emart so popular with many locals is its integration with Shinsegae.
In Korea, virtual vouchers are very common. These vouchers are typically sent over Kakaotalk and can range in value from tens of thousands of won to hundreds of thousands. A common voucher to send is the Shinsegae voucher. After all, you can purchase nearly anything with it!
Of course, these vouchers can also be used in Emart. Not only that, but anyone holding a Shinsegae membership can get exclusive discounts. If you stay in Korea for a more extended period, this membership is worth looking into.
When it comes to my favourite supermarket in Korea, I tend to lean towards Emart for a few reasons. Firstly, the location advantage of the chain. I currently live near Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, and within 30 minutes, I have one No Brand, one HomePlus, and two Emarts. Many locations in big cities are similar – with the most branches of any hypermart in Korea, Emart is always close.
Another advantage is the Emart bakery, deli, and meat section. While this is merely my personal experience, I’ve always found Emart to offer the broadest range of high-quality (and delicious!) fresh bread, ready-to-go salads, and meat. When I shop at Emart I will regularly buy a deli dish for my next meal – they’re good!
I particularly recommend trying the freshly cooked breads. Whether you like sweet or savoury, there are a range of snacks here that are delectable. The best part? The smell! I love shopping while surrounded by the smell of fresh bread.
Ah, Nobrand! As a student in Korea, Nobrand was my favourite place to shop for food. It’s the cheapest supermarket in Korea, but it still has many products. However, what surprised me the most is that it doesn’t just sell Nobrand products – it also has a lot of branded food products at more affordable prices!
Nobrand is a subsidiary of Emart and, therefore, Shinsegae. It’s quite a recent brand, being founded only a few years okay. However, it has managed to garner quite the following in this short time – I almost always do my grocery shopping at Nobrand.
The thing is, while Nobrand is marketed as the more affordable alternative to the ‘Big 3’ (Emart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart), this isn’t its only appeal. Sure, it is cheaper! But it’s also more accessible. When visiting bigger supermarkets in Korea, I always feel somewhat overwhelmed. Do I want Costa Rican, Hawaiian or Ecuadorian coffee? Do I want drip, beans, or instant? There’s so much choice.
Some people love this – fair enough! I don’t, though. I love Nobrand because while there are still choices to make, these choices are more limited and affordable. I can buy virtually anything I want there, yet I don’t have to spend five minutes contemplating the difference between two slightly different items.
If you want a plethora of choices, then Nobrand is likely not for you. The size difference alone should tell you this – Nobrand is usually 1/5th or less the size of an Emart branch. However, No Brand has all the essentials and so much more. I essentially lived off Nobrand food for years, and I honestly never felt like I was missing out on anything.
Therefore, while Nobrand is marketing as the cheapest supermarket in Korea (and it is), I feel like this doesn’t entirely do it justice. Instead, it’s a supermarket that offers affordable pricing on quality foods. Just don’t expect quite the same selection that you would find at the Big 3.
Nobrand also has some unique products. I recently found out that they have a special ghost pepper chip that’s only available at their locations. It’s now one of my favourite chips! Nobrand also has a range of other unique products for customers to try.
Generally, Nobrand excels when it comes to foods that don’t expire quickly. Packaged foods and, especially frozen foods are to purchase here. More often than not, the brands and quality will be the same but the prices lower. While Nobrand does have fresh produce also, I found this to be both higher quality and cheaper at local marts.
Homeplus is another name that quickly becomes synonymous with ‘grocery shopping’ if you live in Korea. With 36 fewer locations than EMart (178 vs 142), Homeplus takes second place to the Shinsegae chain regarding the total number of sites. However, Homeplus has some unique benefits too.
If you’re not familiar with Korean supermarket chains, perhaps you are more familiar with Tesco. This massive British retail chain is partly behind Homeplus, and together with Samsung, the chain was created. While neither Samsung nor Tesco is involved with Homeplus any longer, they did create the chain.
Homeplus is similar to Emart in that it is a goliath of a store. While the store’s primary focus is to sell food, you will also find a massive variety of other goods here. Whether you are looking for cosmetics, clothing, toys, or even pets, you will find them at Homeplus. Really, this ‘supermarket’ has almost everything.
I like Homeplus due to how contained it is. You can buy almost anything here, which makes it perfect for people like me who prefer a one-stop shop over visiting many different locations.
Homeplus’s most prominent attraction for many customers is the 1000won section, generally on an aisle that is out of the way, Homeplus will have a range of discount sections. These will usually be 1000won, 3000won and 5000won, with each section having a range of 10+ discount goods. It’s always fun to explore these sections and at times you can strike gold when you’re favourite snack or ramyun is on sale!
One of the most exciting aspects of Homeplus is that there are often food testers located all over the supermarket. In Korea, this isn’t uncommon. Actually, it’s something that you will find at many supermarkets. What makes Homeplus unique is that the tester food seems to be both higher quality and more common. So if you’re interested in new tastes, make sure to check it out!
Finally, Homeplus has great ready-to-go foods. If you’re tired after supermarket shopping and don’t want to cook today, why not pick up a tasty roast chicken or some fresh sashimi? There are a range of choices and almost all of them are good!
Also, when searching for Homeplus, I came across this rather interesting website. Wondering if your local Homeplus is open? This website will let you know.
I am sure many readers are already familiar with Costco. After all, this massive international chain is famous for being affordable… Provided you are willing to buy in bulk! Unfortunately, while you can purchase some items in smaller sizes,many items can only be purchased in bulk. The good news? Large amounts are cheap!
Before going any further, there are a few caveats that I need to mention. First, in Korea and globally, you can’t simply enter Costco and go about your shopping like other supermarkets on this list. Instead, you will need a Costco membership. If you already have one from another country, you’re good to go. If you don’t, you will need to purchase one.
However, membership itself is not the issue. Even once you have a membership, only specific payment methods are accepted at Costco. Until last year, Samsung cards were the only cards accepted at Costco. Now, only Hyundai cards are accepted. The good news is that cash is always welcomed, and so long as you have a membership card, you can manage with cash.
Considering that other supermarkets in Korea are so easy to access, why would anyone go through this frustrating process to access a supermarket? Well, Costco is not like any other supermarket on the inside. Although commonly known and advertised as a supermarket, it’s essentially a department store focusing on groceries.
In front of the groceries, Costco has a range of different luxury goods and technology. While I don’t know anyone who has purchased these products at Costco, you can find everything from the latest iPhone to luxury handbags here. Of course, that’s not the main focus of this article, though!
If you’re looking for groceries, Costco has a few unique advantages. The first is the price, as mentioned earlier – if you’re looking for something in bulk, then Costco is likely the lowest price that you’ll be able to find.
Secondly, and just as important, Costco also has a range of products from other countries. So if you are from the U.S in particular, it’s likely that Costco will stock some range of familiar foods.
While the pricing of Costco membership and the restrictive payment method make Costco a less accessible option, it’s still a supermarket worth considering in Korea. If you are shopping for many people – say, a family, then a Costco membership is something you will want to consider. For students who live alone? It might not be the best choice.
Along with the big grocery store chains in Korea, there are also smaller, local grocery stores located all over the country. In big cities such as Seoul, you will find these local marts every few blocks. They will range greatly in size from being just bigger than a convenience store to being multiple stories tall.
It’s hard to generalise these local grocery stores in Korea – there are a lot of them, and they are all very different! However, there are a few common factors among them. The most noticeable is that they will usually be cheaper than the larger chain stores. However, the quality can also vary greatly, and you will likely have difficulty finding more obscure foods (such as foreign items).
Where these smaller supermarkets excel is in fresh produce. While the quality can vary greatly, it’s easy to look through the produce and purchase better quality fresh products. Further, these fruits and vegetables can be significantly cheaper than similar products in one of Korea’s hypermarkets.
As mentioned previously, you will find all of the essentials in these supermarkets. However, if you want products that aren’t Korean, you will probably want to look elsewhere. While these local marts might stock a few international items, there will be a much smaller selection than you would find at a bigger grocery store in Korea.
The mid-sized local supermarkets will often have a butcher who can prepare meat for you. While the meat selection will mainly be limited to pork and chicken with some beef mixed in, this is a great (and cheaper) way to buy meat than at the big chains.
With these points in mind, I usually recommend local marts for anyone wanting fresh produce or convenient resupplies (if I run out of coffee, I will often groggily walk to the local supermarket). However, for weekly or fortnightly supermarket visits, a bigger store as Emart is likely the better choice due to the far larger selection of food products.
Korean Convenience Stores
While convenience stores need a whole article dedicated to them (perhaps a future article idea…?), they are worth covering briefly in this post. Whether you want a quick snack, are running out of craft beer, or suddenly feel the urge for coffee, convenience stores in Korea have you covered.
Although, as the name suggests, these are ‘convenience stores’, they’re also essentially small supermarkets. They have most things that you might suddenly find yourself in need of, but they lack the much more extensive selection of bigger grocery stores in Korea. Further, they are often more expensive.
Along with CU and 7/11, GS25 makes up the trifecta of convenience stores in Korea. Together, these three chains make up the vast majority of convenience stores in Korea. While there are some smaller chains, they are rare in comparison.
GS25 trials CU very slightly in the total number of locations. They are so close that they are almost even in terms of total establishments. However, these two chains have a significant advantage over the next largest chain in terms of Korean locations, 7/11.
From my experiences, I’ve found GS25 to have decent ready-to-eat food. I would say that CU has both a better range and better quality. However, GS25 is above 7/11. GS25 does have a few unique kimpab flavours and deserts that are worth trying at least once, though!
I do believe that GS25 has the best selection of ramyun, though. While everyone has a different opinion on the best Korean ramyun, I visit GS25 because they sell Samyang Original Ramyun – something that can be quite hard to find!
GS25 has a decent variety when it comes to alcohol, but it isn’t as good as 7/11. 7/11 tends to stock more international drinks and therefore, I prefer to visit the closest 7/11 over GS25 when looking for a drink.
Perhaps the most interesting find that I’ve had at GS25 is the steak. You can purchase frozen, packaged steak for 10,000KRW. I didn’t ever expect to buy steak at a convenience store, but I was curious! It was surprisingly good for the fact that it was frozen.
Ah, my favourite convenience store. CU has always been there for me – through thick and thin! Perhaps that’s just because it’s everywhere though? As the biggest convenience store chain in Korea, you will see a CU every few minutes while walking.
I fancy CU over the other big convenience stores for a few reasons. The first reason is its ‘HeyRoo’ brand symbolised by what I can only imagine is a kangaroo. This brand sells a range of snacks for low prices – usually, 1200 won. Anything from shortbread to shrimp crisps is available in this range.
While these snacks are great, the real gem is the ramyun. HeyRoo has a few special ramyun flavours such as crab and green pepper – both of these are great and among my favourite Korean ramyun flavours. If you’re ever in a CU, I recommend trying some of the unique flavours on offer!
CU also has a range of fried chicken snacks. While this isn’t uncommon in Korean convenience stores, I’ve always found the chicken at CU to be the best. While it is dependent on when you buy the chicken (if it’s relatively fresh or not), the chicken is always at least good. I can’t say the same for 7/11, which has had some horrible chicken at times.
There is a lot on offer when it comes to the range outside of CU-specific products. In my opinion, CU also has the best range of ready-to-eat food such as doshiraks and sandwiches. While the kimbap here isn’t as good as other convenience stores, the other convenient foods make up for this.
Where CU does lack a bit is in the alcohol section. I always find GS25 and 7/11 to have a broader range and more international drinks. While CU does have some products, it’s a lot more limited than the convenience mentioned above stores.
While every other convenience store on this list originated in Korea or primarily operates here (or both!), 7/11 is known globally because it’s a massive chain. I’m sure I don’t need to explain this – you’re probably already familiar with 7/11 anyway!
In Korea, 7/11 is operated by Lotte (some of these names keep appearing!) and currently, there are over 10,000 stores located on the peninsula. Only Japan and Thailand have more 7/11 stores!
One thing that’s worth mentioning right now is that 7/11 branches are not all 24-hour. Although GS25 and CU almost always operate through the night, 7/11 will often close at 11 pm or midnight. I believe this is a decision that the owner can decide on. It’s caught me off guard many times so it’s worth keeping in mind!
7/11 is the best place to shop for international foods among the convenience stores in Korea. This includes both food items and alcohol. Where CU and GS25 are a lot more confined to local foods, 7/11 has a wider range of goods from other countries. But, of course, if you want international groceries, Costco, Lotte Mart or Emart will still be best.
7/11 generally has a smaller range of ramyun and ready-to-go meals. However, there’s still a decent amount to choose from and you shouldn’t be left wanting for much. GS25, CU and Emart24 dall tend to have a larger selection.
7/11 has great coffee (relative to other convenience stores) and sells big gulps, but otherwise, there isn’t too much that stands out. Unfortunately, this thought is reflected a lot online, where 7/11 lost out on every poll that I saw ranking convenience stores. It’s a good last resort, but CU, GS25, Ministop and Emart24 all have better food diversity and quality.
Ministop is the smallest and most challenging to find out of the convenience stores on this list. While these mini grocery stores aren’t exactly rare, they aren’t always easy to locate. For this reason, few people regularly shop at Ministop.
Ministop has a few unique foods that make it famous for quick meals and snacks. In particular, it offers by far the best convenience store fried chicken (even beating out the spicy chicken breast from CU!). In addition, some Ministops offer soft-serve ice cream for low prices! You can’t beat soft-serve in the hot summer months in Korea.
Ministop does vary a lot regarding selection and quality, however. For this reason, I find CU and GS25 to be easier to shop at – they are always relatively consistent and you know exactly what you will find. However, while Ministop can be fantastic, I sometimes will miss products that I expected to find.
When it comes to what’s on offer inside, you can expect to find a similar ramyun and snack selection as 7/11. While the choice isn’t as great as GS25 and CU, there are still many snack choices that can be made.
The meal foods at Ministop are similar to the aforementioned convenience stores also. You will find the usual kimbap, doshirak, fried chicken, sandwiches and more. Among these, I recommend the chicken!
Emart24 is the convenience store run by Emart, the same company behind Emart (obviously!) and Nobrand. However, where Emart is normally on the cheaper end of Korea’s grocery stores, Emart24 is quite the opposite – it’s almost a luxury convenience store.
This is epitomised not by the food selection within Emart24 stores, but rather by the locations. For example, an Emart24 in Chungmuro has a rooftop view of Namsan Tower where customers can sit and enjoy purchases from the store below.
On Dongjak Bridge, two Emart24 stores overlook the Han River. Similarly to the Chungmuro branch, these stores have two floors dedicated to shopping and also a rooftop viewing area. All in all, Emart has by far the nicest convenience stores in Seoul.
The issue with Emart24 is that it’s hard to find. There are substantially fewer branches than the ‘Big 3’ that are CU, 7/11 and GS25. For that reason, I never intentionally go to an Emart24. Rather, I might just be walking by and randomly come across one. However, since they are so different to other convenience stores in Korea, I always find myself going inside even if just to look.
Emart24 has, in my opinion, the best ready-to-eat food out of every convenience store. In addition, the coffee and other hot drinks are also generally of good quality. For this reason, I always recommend Emart24 for anyone who prefers quality and doesn’t mind spending a bit extra.
Emart24 has been rapidly expanding recently, and in the coming years it may catch up to the larger convenience store chains. However, it can still be quite hard to find in the meantime.
One more thing to note is that Emart24 stores are not always 24 hour. Where CU and GS25 are always 24 hours, 7/11 and Emart have non-24 hour branches. This choice is up to the convenience store owner, and it’s something to keep in mind – don’t always expect Emart24 to be open!
The last key element to grocery shopping in Korea is local markets. While the markets in this section are all within Seoul, each city and even most towns will have local markets where fresh produce can be purchased. Markets are often a great place to get vegetables, seafood and meat.
They will usually be a similar price to local supermarkets, but they also tend to have higher quality goods. For this reason, I recommend visiting often if you live close to a market. If not, it’s still worth visiting one from time to time to get some fresh food!
Established as the first permanent market in South Korea, Gwangjang Market has a long history. While the market is mostly popular among tourists wanting to try Korea’s delectable street foods, some locals also visit the market to do their weekly grocery shopping.
Gwangjang is a particularly good place to shop for food if you are looking for wholesale goods. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and fish can all be found here. The best part? You can enjoy a meal in the market to take a quick break from grocery shopping.
Another great reason to visit Gwangjang for grocery shopping in Korea is that there are a lot of side-dishes on sale. Perhaps you are particularly fond of some side dishes but can’t cook them yourself (like me!). If that’s the case, Gwangjang is a great place to visit and get your fill of the best side dishes.
Noryangjin Fish Market
If you are a pescitarian or perhaps just someone who loves seafood, then Noryangjing Fish Market is definitely a must-visit. While I don’t visit Noryangjin Market often myself as it’s a long journey for me, anyone who lives close should consider it for their grocery shopping – as long as that shopping involves food from the ocean!
Similar to other food markets in Korea, Noryangjin offers both a range of wholesale food, groceries, and restaurants. While most visitors will visit the market to try the exquisite seafood dishes, locals will often visit in order to purchase ingredients for home cooking.
While Noryangjin is a fish market by name, it has all kinds of seafood. If it lives in the ocean, you can find it here. Prices are generally better than supermarkets in Korea as is the selection – there is no where else in Korea that you will find the same selection that you will find here.
Another thing to keep in mind is that bartering is quite common at Noryangjin Market. It’s likely that you will be able to save a bit of money if you are willing to negotiate prices with the seller.
Majang Meat Market
Where Noryangjing is a pescitarian’s dream, Majang Meat Market is a carnivore’s home. This market is dedicated solely to meat – no matter what kind you are looking for. Even better, the meat here can be significantly cheaper than what you would find at supermarkets.
The biggest worry for me when I first visited Majang was the hygiene. While markets themselves are often not the cleanest places, a meat market concerned my paritularly. However, Majang is much cleaner than I was anticipating and the market is recognised by the Korean Medical Association (KMA).
In fact, I think that the Majang Meat Market is cleaner than most local supermarkets and butchers! A lot of time and effort has gone into making sure the market is hygienic and ready for customers.
Majang sells both international and local meat and therefore it’s a great place to try meats from around the world. However, if you do visit I recommend purchasing and trying Korea’s speciality beef – Hanwoo.
Gyeongdong Herb Market
The final market to make this list is Gyeongdong Market, a market in Dongdaemun that specialises in herbs and spices. It’s also very famous for traditional Korean medicines, however, for grocery shoppers the herbs and spices will likely be of more interest.
As with all of the markets on this list, Gyeongdong tends to be significantly cheaper than supermarkets. On top of this, the quality of the food is often better as it is fresher and often comes from local farmers.
While you likely won’t need to visit Gyeongdong as often since herbs and spices tend to keep longer, it is worth visiting every once in a while. I’ve really loved visiting because I almost always discover something new to try. If you are looking to expand your tastes, Gyeongdong Market is a great place to do so.
If you do visit Gyeongdong for grocery shopping, I recommend trying local ginseng. There are a lot of sellers and it can be hard to find the best price. However, it’s worth trying!
Grocery Stores in Korea FAQ
What Grocery Stores Can I Find in Korea?
Almost all Korean supermarket chains are unique to or based in Korea. The biggest are Emart, Lotte Mart and Homeplus. You will also be able to find Costco and a range of local marts.
What Is a Hypermarket?
‘Hypermarket’ is the term used to describe Lotte Mart, Emart and Homeplus. It’s basically a department store with a focus on groceries. Within these oversized supermarkets, you will be able to find everything from furniture to electronics.
Can I Buy Groceries Online in Korea?
Definitely! The most common platforms for buying groceries online are those run by Homeplus, GS, Emart and Lotte. However, there are also other platforms such as Gmarket, Coupang and Market Kurly that sell groceries online.
Are Groceries Expensive in Korea?
Yes! Actually, food in Korea is some of the most expensive in the world. Therefore, grocery shopping can be very expensive. Make sure to shop at markets and local marts to save some money.
Can I Find International Foods in Korea?
You can definitely find international foods in Korea. Generally, the bigger supermarkets have an international section. Costco is also a great option. If none of these physical stores stocks what you are looking for, online shopping is bound to have it!