|The Sunday market, better known as Little Manila, is a favorite stop-over for Filipinos and anyone else who has bonds with the Southeast Asian country. Filipinos drop by the market after attending Sunday mass at hyehwa-dong Catholic Church. / Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min|
Written By Lee Han-na
Video By Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min
Every Sunday, from morning till afternoon, an exotic Southeast Asian market is open in Daehangno, a university district near central Seoul. About 15 vendors set up green tents along a 100-meter stretch of road between Hyehwa-Dong Catholic Church and Dongsung High School to welcome shoppers.
The market, better known as "Little Manila" is an ethnic enclave where visitors can explore the "real Philippines."
The Sunday market is a favorite stop-over for Filipinos and anyone else who has bonds with the Southeast Asian country. Filipinos drop by the market after attending Sunday mass nearby. According to Statistics Korea, nearly 60,000 guest workers from the Philippines live in Korea. The actual number of Filipinos could be much higher, because marriage migrants and students were not included in the data.
There are no official documents that can confirm when and how Little Manila was created there. But the market is believed to have been held there for over 20 years.
It is a popular place for everyone. The street is crowded with Filipinos of all age groups ― from children to adults.
Little Manila provides several different Filipino products, foods and ingredients Filipinos crave, especially when they feel homesick.
With plastic chairs and food trays, and a spoon and fork (without a knife although some prefer using hands), people enjoy dishes at makeshift eateries, including some well-known tourist-friendly snacks such as banana cue and turon.
Meat and vegetables are available as well. Meat comes from the Majang Meat Market nearby, but is cut to serve the Filipino dishes. They also sell ampalayas, known as the "bitter melon or cucumber," one of Koreans' favorite healthy dishes from the country with its alleged medicinal benefits such as lowering blood sugar levels.
The market is a venue for cultural exchanges between Koreans and Filipinos. Many Korean customers started visiting the market to explore Filipino culture and authentic food. For those who have been to the Philippines for travel, study or business, the market is a popular venue to taste authentic Filipino dishes.
One of the best ways to explore this market is looking for similarities such as the glutinous rice cakes, "bibingkang malagkit," which resemble traditional Korean rice cakes. The Filipino version of a sticky rice cake with coconut flavor reminds Korean customers of "tteok." There is also "pancit bihon," a dish very similar to Korean "japchae" but with a stronger soybean sauce.
The market was initially set up for homesick Filipinos who missed their traditional foods. So the supply hinges on how many Filipinos want that particular food or ingredient.
There are many unique products like chicaron or fried pork skin, a delicious snack served with vinegar, and canned tropical fruit juices with flavors such as guava.
Some might wonder about "balut," which ranks within the top 10 in the world's most notorious foods by Forbes. It is a normal street food of a fertilized duck egg only half matured and unhatched. The fetus with its little feathers is eaten.
When asked if photos of the food can be taken, vendors were reluctant to share their products due to worries of possible negative reactions because of their unusual appearance and taste. Hesitantly, a vendor who asked for anonymity, said it became a "hated food" in Busan and vendors selling it were fined.
"Please do not shoot this one. The food was once fined as a hated food in Busan so, we are scared to take photos or video of this product," he said, explaining how the product is meant for Filipinos who miss the food, not to cause any trouble or hatred.
|Various products from the Philippines, including coffee and meat, are available at the Sunday market. / Korea Times photo by Lee Han-na|
Park Il-sun, who is married to a Filipina he met when he worked in the Southeast Asian country, oversees overall management of the market and the community of vendors.
He said the vendors don't seek profits. According to him, the market was established there to improve the wellbeing of the community and help vendors support their families with incomes they earn through sales. "Some people misunderstand our motives and try to find fault in us, but we are not after money," he said.
Park shared some stories of managing the market. "Recently, somebody accused me of receiving money from the vendors, but the allegation was found to be baseless in a police investigation. I do get money from the vendors to provide them garbage bags that cost around 2,300 won."
Just as Korean men are married to Filipina women, there are also Korean women with Filipino husbands. Many Korean-Filipino couples are grappling with racial stereotypes and biases that are, according to Park, widespread in this society, because some Koreans have biased racial views, particularly against the Southeast Asian women. He noted interracial marriage requires the couples to follow a difficult and lengthy procedure, saying this is also an issue he is looking into solving.
The market, in that aspect, is a community to help people and, at the same time, to share stories of happiness, sadness, difficulties and, moreover, dreams to deepen their bonds and ties.
It is a place of love as well. Park shared, "There are some couples who found love here and got married, and went back to their country."
Little Manila also gives a peek into the daily wear of the Filipino population here. Men wearing sunglasses and snapbacks, T-shirts and backpacks are frequently spotted. Filipina women, meanwhile, show off a colorful fashion sense with their unique makeup style emphasizing their big beautiful eyes.
It is no wonder Tagalog is heard everywhere in the market, a rare experience for Koreans.
Like the saying, "two is better than one," these people know exactly how to be united in a foreign land and visit the market from time to time to keep in touch. It's a nice place to visit on Sunday for those who want to experience the Philippines in Korea.
Lee Han-na is a Korea Times intern.