Visiting markets of a new city makes you understand the city better — I can’t agree more with this. You get a glimpse into local people’s life as you visit their local market. My recent trip to the Noryang-jin Fisheries Wholesale Market was an interesting one. I didn’t know the bustling and literary “wet” market, brimming with distinct fishy smell could look so picturesque, even with my rookie photography skills.
The market is located at the very center of Seoul, right beside the Han River. Traffic is convenient as it is just located at a walkable distance from the Noryangjin Station (노량진역) Line No.1. Embarking our journey to the market from the subway train station building, take note of the location of this pedestrian bridge from my picture above, which is very easy to spot as it is just located right behind the Noryangjin Station.
Noryangjin Subway Station Line No.1. Picture was taken on the pedestrian bridge.
After getting onto the pedestrian bridge, you would see the Noryangjin Station on your right-hand side. Just continue to walk down the bridge, and you will reach an open rooftop carpark. The Market is just located right below the carpark.
Being the largest fisheries wholesale market in Seoul (Largest fisheries market in Korea is located at Busan, the Jagalchi Fisheries Market), this 24 hours market is said to be filtered in and out by 30,000 visitors per day. Reputed to be the home for the freshest seafood in Seoul, it is not hard to spot locals shopping for their daily meal in this enormous market which consist about 700 stalls.
View from the 2nd level of the market.
Variety is the keyword here at Noryangjin Fisheries Market. Over 830 different kinds of seafood items ranging from dried fish, fermented fish, vegetables, and a wide assortment of fresh seafood including different kinds of shrimps, scallops, king crabs, living octopus, lobsters and so on. A must-visit for a foodie.
One of my favourite, salmon. Excellent presentation, isn’t it?
The seafood in the market varies according to different seasons in Korea. Here is the list of the must-eats in each season by visitseoul.net:
In the winter: flathead mullet (숭어), yellowtail (방어), Spanish mackerel (삼치), chambok (참복), halibut (넙치), octopus (참문어), and snow crabs (대게).
In the spring: flounder (가자미), Spanish mackerel (삼치), black sea bream (감성돔), snapper (참돔), parrot fish (돌돔), hakkkongchi (학꽁치), chammuneo (참문어), and prawns (보리새우).
In the summer, eel (붕장어), hwangdom (황돔), bass (농어), parrot fish (돌돔), grouper (능성어), filefish (말쥐치), and abalone (전복) .
In the autumn, dotted gizzard shad (전어), mackerel (고등어), skate (홍어), filefish (말쥐치), sil squid (실오징어), and small octopus (낙지) are in season.
Basically, there are 2 ways of enjoying the seafood here at Noryangjin market. You can either purchase and bring home to prepare your seafood the way you usually do, or purchase whatever you want out here and then bring it to any restaurant located at the 2nd level, or the basement. 2nd option seems to be a more popular way here. Some restaurants seem to have tie-ups with certain stalls out there, and it is said that you could get a better price by selecting these pre-pairing offer.
Fishes were processed immediately after you made your order with the stalls. Some fishes are nicely sliced for “sashimi”, in Korean, 희 [ Read: Hoeh] So what is the difference between “hoeh” and “sashimi”?
This is not the 1st time I encountered the same question. Well, hoeh and sashimi are essentially same-same but different, in a sense, they are all eaten raw. However, fishes that use as hoeh here in Korea are more solid/ chewy in texture. Most of them are white flesh, whereas, in Japan, sashimi in the red flesh are more popular, the fatter, the better.
According to the Professionals at the market, it was the perfect season for dotted gizzard shad, 전어 [read: jeon-o], Flounder 광어 [read: gwang-o] and Mackerel 고등어 [read: go-deung-o] so we decided to try these out at the market.
Gwang-o: The yellow one with white parts in the middle; Jeon-o: the small ones; and the Go deung-o.
Not too sure what fish is what fish though. Our kind reader provided some information down there at the comment box. You may want to check them out! ; )
Ajussi proceed with cleaning the scales right after it was scooped.
We went to this restaurant right in front of the stall after purchasing our fishes. (There are more upstairs, but we were just too overwhelmed and decided to settle down at the first restaurant we saw.) Here at the Noryangjin Market, the ajussi will pack the hoeh and the bones together. All you need to do is to pass EVERYTHING to the restaurant, and they will prepare the food according to your liking.
All the restaurants here will charge you an “entrance fee” (KRW 3000 per person). Additional cooking charges apply according to the seafood you purchased. Remember, if you purchase sashimi grade fishes from the market outside, you’ll be given a packet of fish bones when they are done with the cleaning and cutting outside. This packet of bones is used to make Mae-un-tang 매운탕 (Spicy Fish Soup), a standard dish to order here when you eat Korean sashimi. So we ordered the Mae-un-tang 매운탕 (Spicy Fish Soup) using the bones, and eat the rest of the fish fresh. Other than the entrance fee, we paid an extra KRW50,000 for the cooking fee and the soup. There were 5 of us so we each paid KRW 10,000 for the cooking.
Unlike the Japanese Sashimi that serves together with wasabi and soy sauce, the Korean serve hoeh with sliced garlic, go-chu-jang (chili sauce). Here we learn to appreciate Korean “sashimi” the Korean way—wrapping up the hoeh in the lettuce with some go-chu-jang and garlic, and voila!
Writer’s Note: The seasonal fishes didn’t turn out to be memorable. The ONLY hoeh that I like during the meal was the olive flounder. To me, this particular meal is merely a been-there-done-that kind of experience. However, many of my friends who had abalone, shrimps, salmon, octopus and snow crabs had a blast there at Noryangjin Market.
Personally, I feel it is a place worth visiting as it gives a gist of an ordinary Korean’s life here at the market. You get to see locals bargaining and picking up their groceries, which is really different from the usual tour like Dongdaemun, Myeong-dong or palace tour one may arrange. What is more, this place is surprisingly photogenic too!
As for the food itself, I would say it all depends on what you purchase, which restaurant you go, and what type of cooking did you select. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the fish this time round, but I am seeing myself going back to try their big fat scallops, shrimps and live octopus as well. : )
Comment after my recent visit in 2015:
This place is getting more and more crowded as tourist flocking to get the “real taste” of a Korean fish market. I am quite unhappy with the rather aggressive, hard-sell strategy adopted by the stalls nearer to the entrance (aka the most crowded lane of the whole market). However, I must say this market continues to provide the freshest catch out of the whole Seoul city so if you are still keen, all you need is to get out of the very crowded first lane in the market and go all the way into the middle, where real locals do their shopping. But again, if you have problems communicating in Korean, perhaps the Chinese speaking vendors at the very crowded, extra-popular first lane could help you better.
Exit to the open carpark.
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