This post is part of my “Seoul Tourist” articles written for visitors to Korea. If you are looking to visit Seoul on vacation and are interested in exploring the city. You can join our highly rated food tours and cooking classes at O’ngo Food Communications in Seoul.
The Noryangin Fish Market is Seoul’s largest marine products market. Covering over 66,000 square meters the warehouse is a teeming wonderland of all that swims in the sea. There are over 700 small shops, and several bigger ones, that sell everything from shrimp, flounder, and live octopus to the exotic spoon worm, sea cucumber, and sting ray. If you can’t find your aquatic friend here, it probably doesn’t exist in Korea.
The market is open 24 hours. If you are up around 2am (except on Sundays and holidays), you can witness the wholesale auction. At the auction they sell everything from very high-grade fish to low-grade bulk products. Just don’t yawn, because you might accidently buy a couple hundred kilograms of fresh fish. The Toro and the giant squid tentacles fetch hundreds of thousands of won (equivalent to hundreds of dollars) each. And when these items go on the auction block, the room becomes very exciting because these fishmongers don’t like to lose.
When you enter the market, you will catch the strong scent of the sea and of, obviously, fish. The warehouse is cold because of the large amounts of ice that that are brought into the market to keep the fish fresh. It’s like a giant, open-air refrigerator. Here, many small vendors that sell shrimp, crab, flounder, oysters, and eel greet you. It looks like an aquarium at times because of the large number of tanks swarming with fish and crustaceans. You can buy things by the gram or individually. The prices here are usually about 30% cheaper than what you would get at supermarkets and department stores. Haggling is sorta expected, so haggle to get a discount. If you pay cash you might be able to get 15% percent or so off your food. Some places will take credit card, but don’t expect too much of a discount. Also, if you buy in bulk (or if the vendors like you) you might get a couple extra shrimp or maybe a something you’ve never eaten before.
Now most of you will probably go to Noryangin to see the spectacle and to eat some fish. The Korean specialty is Hwae. Hwae is a raw fish dish that is usually sliced Kwango (flounder), Wooruk (rockfish), and Nongo (Sea Bass). The sliced raw fish is placed on a leaf of lettuce and then topped with a sliver of raw garlic, a piece of green pepper, a dab of vinegared red pepper paste and then eaten. The fish is chewy and the clean taste pairs well with the minty garlic and the tangy sauce. You eat this fish with a plethora of different side dishes such as figs, fried vegetables, broiled fish, salad, kimchi and soju (Korean liquor). After your fish is gone, the restaurant will bring out a bowl of Maeuntang, which is like a spicy Bouillabaisse. The soup is made from the bones of the fish you just ate. The spicy and hearty soup is a great way to round out the meal because it will warm you and fill you up. Koreans always like to leave a restaurant full and happy.
If you are a bit more adventurous, you can go for the live octopus: sannakji. It’s not as scary as it sounds and it’s actually quite delicious. The octopus is first thoroughly cleaned and then sliced up. The nerves in the octopus don’t die right away, so they squirm around on the plate. The live octopus is first dipped in a salt and sesame oil sauce so it has a chewy, nutty, sea flavor. The best thing is that the little suckers will grip the plate, then the chopsticks, and finally the inside of your mouth as you chew away. It’s playing with your food taken to the highest level. It’s a delicious new experience.
In my opinion, the most delicious thing at the entire fish market are the king crab. They have varieties from Russia and Korea and during the winter months, they are the meatiest. They are big- like 2 kilos or more and they cost from 30-50,000 per crab (depending on the size). I love to take these crabs to the restaurant and then have them steamed. Afterwards, they will cut the crab open with scissors and save the butter part to make a fried rice. The rice is heavenly. It is like the best crab risotto you’ll ever have.
So hopefully you’ll make it out to the market. It’s not as intimidating as it might seem and it’s quite fun. It’s like fishing, but you don’t have to do any of the work and you always get the freshest and best catch. Let me tell you how you can do this.
1. Take a friend (or several) because you’re going to have a lot of food.
2. Go up to a fish vendor and look around for the kind of fish, or shellfish you might want to eat.
3. Point and ask the man, “how much.” (O-my-aio). At this point he’ll look at you and give you a price. Tell him you would like a discount, “Taka jusayo.” He might give you a discount or he might not. Regardless, you should say thank you, “Kamsahamnida” and walk away. At this point he’ll come get you and he’ll give you a better price. At that point you should say, yes, “Ne.” Take your picture with the man and your catch. He’ll go and slice it for you.
4. Now that you have your fish, you need to buy some shrimp, live octopus, oysters, and other fish to accompany it.
5. Then you take your fresh catch to a restaurant that’s nearby. There are many in the back row. My favorite is Jinnam Sushi Restaurant. It’s on the second floor in the back of the market. They have excellent side dishes and good service. (02 815-2732). Hand them your catch and they’ll prepare it for you as you have a drink at one of their comfortable tables.
6. Once the food is prepared they’ll bring it out for you and your friends to enjoy.
Take the Subway Line 1 to Noryangjin Station. It is on the dark blue line (line 1). At the station you’ll see signs that will direct you over a bridge and to the market. If you are in a taxi then tell him, “Noryangjin su-san shi-jang” you can get picked up from your Hotel in Seoul.