08 November 2004

Noryangjin Fish Market

Tucked in the shadow of 63 Building, South Korea's tallest, is the Noryangjin Fish Market (노량진수산시장). Come join me as we get down and dirty today.

(Update - reader "Dong" rightfully pointed out that 63 Building is NOT Korea's tallest. This bragging right belongs to Samsung's Tower Palace 3 (Tower G)).

As you get off the subway at Noryangjin Station, you undeniably know you're at the right place. I smell something fishy here, and it ain't my breakfast.

Step out of the station and you're greeted with this long overhead pedestrian bridge, which leads you across the railway and subway lines before you find yourself at the roof carpark of the Fish Market.

As you can see from the photo above, the Fish Market is located just a stone's throw away from 63 Building - ok you have to throw the stone pretty far to reach it, I admit. To the left of 63 Building is the Kumho Richensia Towers, all of which are located in Yeouido-dong, the little patch of "island" along the Han River.

As you take the stairs leading down from the rooftop carpark to the market proper, this is your first glimpse of the market.

Noryangjin Fish Market is technically a seafood market, so you don't just get fish here, for clarity's sake. It is also a wholesale auction market, and the bulk of seafood into Seoul and the surrounding regions is routed through here. The auction is conducted between 0100-0630 in the wee hours of the morning, and the very same seafood will find its way to restaurants all over in time for their day's business. The retail market takes off where the auction ends and business is conducted until the late hours of evening.

The market has a total floor space of over 6,000 square meters and sees over 15,000 customers every day - not that I counted. Moving on before they stare me to death ....

Here's a sampling of the variety of seafood that's available here.

Octopus (문어), still wriggling with freshness.

Here's a quick game you can play at home with the family - can you find the one with 9 tentacles?

The king crabs (깅크랩) are from Russia whilst the hairy crabs (털게) and snow crabs (대게) are from North Korea. The flower crabs (꽃게) are local and the most common.

More pics of crabs ....

crabs ....

and more crabs.

A variety of seafood - some familiar, some not at all - prawns (새우), abalone (전복), clams (조개), oysters (굴), sea snails (소라) and sea cucumber (해삼) are some of the familiar ones.

These are the more interesting bits.

Small octopus (낙지) is a popular delicacy here and eaten cooked or raw. If eaten raw, it is eaten whole or sliced up, its tentacles still wriggling as it goes into your mouth. I have tried it several times, and the suction action is interesting to say the least. Talk about your food fighting back!

The pinkish worm-like sea slugs are gaebul (개불). The bright red ones are known as monggae (멍개) - they're like seafood with a severe attack of acne. Both of these are usually eaten raw and served in sushi restaurants.

And of course, live fishes are in abundance here. You point at the fish of your choice and the seller weighs it and informs you of the price. Haggling is encouraged, but only to the point when the fishmonger starts pointing his knife at you. Once you're satisfied, pay up and you can take the fish home with you, whole or gutted and cleaned.

The popular choice from my observation is to have them prep it up for you as hwee (회), i.e. sashimi complete with a disposable plate. See the guy sitting by the wooden slicing board? That's the hwee master carver.

Here's another interesting bit. On the floor above the Fish Market, you'll find 8 seafood (seafood - what'd you expect?) restaurants - yes I counted. This is the same floor from which you'd come into the market from the subway station - second photo above.

These restaurants "specialise" in hwee (회) raw fish, steamed crabs and other seafood-based dishes and soups. I say "specialise" with a grain of salt as they don't actually do any of the hwee bit. You actually buy your hwee from the market and bring it upstairs or have it delivered upstairs to consume. The restaurants will provide the side dishes, liquor and prepare hot soup from the carcass of the recently deboned fish - you just pay the restaurant a standard flat rate per head.

Of course, if you don't want the hassle of doing it yourself, you can just order at the restaurants and the ladies will yell your order downstairs and it'll be on your table in a couple of minutes - as depicted in the photo above. How much fresher can your seafood get?

I can't share any dining experience at the restaurants here, as I left the Fish Market without eating. Here's an interesting article I dug up from the internet on eating at one of these restaurants. Enjoy!

Do correct me if I've made any mistakes in this post, resident experts.

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