Watch your feet in Daehak-ro, especially on a Sunday—there are so many people there, the thoughtless ambler might get stepped on. Promoted by the Korean government as the "Broadway of Asia" for its aggregation of some 100 small theaters staging performances throughout the year, it also contains many well-known restaurants, parks, and museums. Naturally, it is always crowded with people from all over the city, if not the country. But go to Marronnier Park, the heart of Daehak-ro, on just the right day and you will find yourself looking at a sight quite disconnected from the rest of the bustling city. Welcome to Marche@Hyehwa, Seoul’s first urban farmer’s market.
▲ 1 Preparing burger patties on the spot
Baskets of tomatoes, home-made carrot cake, sprout vegetable tortillas made of veggies from the seller’s kitchen garden—everything about Marche@Hyehwa has a somewhat rustic touch to it. Held on the front lawn of the Hyewha Artist House, an old brick mansion originally used as Kyeongseong Imperial University during the Japanese colonial period, the market is surrounded by the ground’s brick walls, which effectively cuts it off from the loud, swarming city life outside. With just a touch of imagination, it is easy to convince yourself of being in a small town-market, somewhere in the countryside.
▲ 2 Home-made pickles and organic vegetables on sale
Another oddity, at least from the perspective of an urbanite, is how the sellers positioned in each stall greet their customers by name. They exchange good-to–see-you’s and how-have-you-been’s, as they would with old friends. This aspect is one of the charms of Marche@Hyehwa, according to Choi Do Hee (30, Jongro), who has been participating in the market since May as a seller of bay salt. "The market is great to get to know good people. Those who come here consist not only of one-time tourists but also regular customers who come to every market to buy their everyday groceries," said Choi.
▲ 3 The line for burgers cuts across the entire length of the market
Another point that adds to the appeal of Marche@Hyehwa is that it gives the chance for customers and producers to interact. Each producer is allocated to a separate white tent; they stand under their individual tents with their various products displayed before them on a table and are always available and willing to answer questions from curious onlookers. At the "Grammo Kitchen" tent, for example, seller Kang Mi Sun (33, Yeonnam-dong) seemed to spend more time chatting with onlookers about her jam products than she did actually selling them. "The thing about Marche@Hyewha is that it is not simply a market; rather, it is a place to commune where people interact with one another. Here, food is not just something to be sold, but a subject of conversation," explained Kang. She was cut off mid-interview by a customer who dropped by introducing himself as a fellow jam-producer and wanted to chat about jam-making recipes. And this, in effect, is the main objective of Marche@Hyehwa—to form a connection between the producers and sellers of the food supply chain and to share legitimate organic food with other people. The market was first organized on October 2012, and has opened every month since then. It all started with the nuclear disaster in Japan. Marche@Hyehwa’s founder, Kim Su Kyang, was shaken by the event, especially when she realized there was high possibility that the produce she ate could be tainted with radioactive substances. As the owner of a small café in Hongdae, she felt responsible to procure safe food for the sake of her own health as well as that of her customers, and thus she started taking an interest in organic food. This led her to form the goal of sharing legitimate food with other wary consumers, and with a few other like-minded people, she organized the Marche@Hyehwa.
▲ 4 Home-baked cookies made from organic wheat and free-trade sugar
5 Free-trade cashew nuts on sale
6 The seller packages a piece of carrot cake for a customer
The market has expanded a lot compared with its initial beginning, and now it consists of not only farmers selling fruit and vegetables, but also cooks selling organic, home-made food, and artisan craftsmen selling environmentally-friendly soy wax candles, soaps, and scarves dyed with natural colors. During the October market, burgers made using organic vegetable patties were an especially big hit, with the waiting line cutting across the entire length of the marketplace.
Though it does not actively take part in direct publicity campaigns, Marche@Hyehwa attracts more and more customers every month. "I decided to come here after a friend recommended it to me, who had learned of the market through an Internet blog," said Lee Sun Mi (28, Inui-dong). And with highly read publications such as Marie Claire releasing articles covering the various charms of the market, it can be expected that even more people will come in the future.
▲ 7 Choi sells bay salt made from her grandfather’s salt farm
8 Marche sellers are more than happy to explain their products to curious customers
9 Kang at her booth selling jam made from organic ingredients
So when you feel like taking a break from the monotony of city life, try paying a visit to Marche@Hyehwa. It takes place once every month, usually on the first Sunday, though the exact date is subject to change. It is open from 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M, but the items on demand sell out within the first 30 minutes. Therefore, those who wish to see the market in its full form should definitely go early. The exact date and sellers for each month’s market can be checked in advance on Marche’s Internet site, marcheat.net.