Seoul’s Noryangjin Fish Market

In honor of this week’s weird food – Nakji, this week’s post is going to be of Seoul’s famous Noryangjin Fish Market where I have had the opportunity to chow down on some delicious Nakji as well as a variety of other seafoods.

I’ve always loved visiting markets whenever I travel, there’s something very interesting about being in the heart of local culture and seeing the kinds of food that the locals are eating.  My first real visit to a real wholesale fish market was when I visited the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan in 2007. Tsukiji is amazing and known for their tuna auctions and super fresh fish. Seoul also has a wholesale fish market (Noryangjin) which is conveniently located right next to the Noryangjin subway station.  If you are in Seoul and looking for some fresh seafood, then this is the place you need to go.

Noryangjin has been the site of the fish market since 1927 and on the top of most visitor’s to do lists.  In the last year, the owners of the fish market have built a brand new fish market across from the current location.  This new state of the art facility is fully indoors and has air conditioning, but funnily enough, when you go inside there are few vendors.  The bottom line is the vendors don’t want to move.  So you may wonder why, well from the looks of it, the vendor space has been considerably reduced, which means if you want to rent more space, you’ll pay more.  Of course the owners of the new building state that the old building is almost 50 years old and not safe and is not sanitary.

So how do you get to the market?  Well take Line 1 or Line 9 to Noryangjin Station, then use exit 1.  You will see this stairway leading up and across the railroad tracks.  Take the stairs (pictured below) and you will start seeing the signs like the one above for the fish market.

Now that you’ve made it to the market, here is your dilemma.  Do you follow the yellow signs leading to the new fish market? or do you follow the dark blue signs to the traditional fish market?  When you get to the point of making your decision, you will see people there sent by the company to help make your decision.

“The traditional market is dangerous and dirty, you should go to the new building” they say.

Having been to the traditional market many times, we of course were not swayed, and continued on our merry way. But I’m sure for many tourists, their comments dissuade them from visiting the traditional market.  Although I prefer the traditional market, let me be clear on what you can expect.  The market is not clean by any means, I always wear close toed shoes and I walk very gingerly. All the restaurants upstairs are now closed since the owners of the building shut off water and power to them, but small restaurants on the first floor are still available. Note that you will be sitting on small plastic chairs and eating on a plastic table in a small back alley using rolls of toilet paper for napkins.  To me this is all part of the fun of going to the market, but if you are expecting more, then you might want to go to the new market.

Inside the market you will find a huge variety of food.  Prices vary from stall to stall, so it’s definitely a good thing to do some comparison shopping.  So far I would say that all the seafood I have seen is pretty darn fresh.  Every once in a while you will see a fish who is struggling, but that is not the norm. You can get by with english in the market (they will just show you prices with their fingers or on a calculator), so don’t avoid the market just because of the language barrier.  Additionally, many of the vendors and restaurants also speak Mandarin, so don’t be afraid to your Mandarin if you can.

The market offers nice variety of seafood from the run of the mill seafood like shrimp, to more exotic items like stingray.

My favorite way that I’ve had shrimp at the market prepared is barbecued in a pan on top of salt.  These shrimp were so sweet!

No trip to the fish market is compete without trying some Nakji (octopus).  Here I am handling our little friend for the first time, he is really really slippery…you can see from my face that I’m a little weirded out by him.

You can usually get 3 small ones for 5,000 won (or if you buy a lot from one vendor, ask them to give you “service” and they will usually throw in 1 or 2 for free).

Here is our little buddy all cut up.  Don’t let the idea of raw octopus scare you.  Honestly the meat itself is just very chewy, but has no taste.  That is why you have to dip it in a salt and sesame oil mixture.  I actually really like it as an appetizer. The other fun thing, is the pieces are so fresh that the little tentacles wriggle around while you are trying to pick them up and definitely will stick to your mouth a little, so make sure you chew before you swallow!

One of my favorite things at the market is the fresh sashimi.  YUM! Here is some salmon that we bought, I got a small piece of salmon for 10,000 won and they they cut it up for you.

These are some BBQ scallops, some with a garlic sauce and others just plain.

Giant crab! Be prepared to pay anywhere from 80,000 – 150,000 won for one of these monsters.

We saw these guys and decided to give them a try. They told us they were called crawling shrimp. Honestly they looked like bugs, and I didn’t think their meat was that tasty (a bit mushy actually).  I would stick to shrimp.

Say hello to my little friend, Mr. Lobster! He cost us 40,000 won and he was delicious.  This variety of lobster is not local by any means to Korea or even Asia.  He was imported form good ole Canada, but he was still delicious.

One of my favorite ways to finish off my meal is with a fish soup (jjigae).  You can either buy a fish head out in the market, or most restaurants will have some and they put it in a deliciously light seafood broth.

After dinner, we decided to stop by the new market, just to see what it was all about.  Here is what it looks like from the outside.

And here it is on the inside.  You can see how cramped it is and how empty. The vendors are definitely going to continue fighting the move.

The owners of the fish market should really realize that tourists, really enjoy the traditional feel of the market, the new market makes you feel like you are in a grocery store.  And although I understand that the building the traditional market is housed in has deteriorated, they definitely could have invested money in upgrading that facility in lieu of building a brand new one.  If you have the chance, definitely visit the traditional market before it is gone forever.

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