As a Midwesterner, the majority of my seafood experiences have been limited to soggy popcorn shrimp at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and alfredo-doused shrimp linguine at Red Lobster. Therefore, whilst abroad, I try to eat as much seafood as I can.
South Korea is the perfect place for me to fulfill this desire, as the locals appreciate the fruits de mer with an enthusiasm that is paralleled by only a few other countries.
Being a big believer in the baptism-by-fire-method, I think one of the first things a person in Seoul should do is go to the famed Noryangjin Fish Market (노량진수산물도매시장).
The market originated in 1927 near Seoul station and then moved to central Seoul in 1971. In 2016 the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives (NFFC) forced the vendors to move to a new building constructed next door. A large dispute erupted over this move, the NFFC citing modernization and cleanliness as the main reasons, while many of the vendors pointed to the higher stall prices and accused the NFFC of gentrification. A few hardy souls have refused to move from the old fish-market and now the Noryangjin market is a tale of two cities. If you are interested in reading further about the relocation issue I recommend this article .
I walked through the old market and found it be a lot less bustling than what I remembered from my 2014 visit. I vividly recall walking through puddles of water and blood and flinching at the spasms of freshly-caught fish displayed on ice. The vendors were quite aggressive and it was definitely an in-your-face type of place. I actually felt so overwhelmed that I decided not to eat anything that time.
When we finished strolling through the dimly-lit old market, we went to the new building next door. The new place has a much more welcoming feel and seemed like a suitable place to find some lunch.
The floors were clean, the lighting was good, and there were a lot less “hard-sell” tactics from the vendors.
We walked through the stalls marveling at all the different googly-eyed creatures of the deep. I took this time to get a feel for prices, pointing at the seafood on display and asking “ol-ma-ye-yo” or “how much?” The vendors were friendly and approachable, willing to engage with foreigners, dangling octopuses, crabs, spoon worms (also known as, ahem, penis fishes) in my face while quoting me prices.
I could not find anyone to quote me a reasonable price for crab, and the baby octopuses looked too cute to have chopped up in front of me, so I decided to go for the delicious looking hunks of salmon that were at many of the stalls.
I walked around and got some wild prices (40,000? C’mon!) and some reasonable ones. One of the vendors was very friendly and his starting price was 20,000 won which I thought was reasonable. I said 5,000 and we met at 10,000 Won. We were both happy with the deal.
They took the salmon to the counter, chopped it up, and packaged it with ginger and sliced green onion.
He was partnered with a specific restaurant and they whisked us there to sit down and enjoy our meal. We chose to have our fish served as Hweh (회) , the Korean equivalent of sashimi, on a plate with some side dishes, or banchan. The restaurant charge was 5,000 won each and then we ordered some rice at an additional cost of 1,000 won. All in all, this expedition totaled out to be 22,000 Won — not bad!
We dipped our salmon in soy sauce, rubbed a little wasabi into the pores of the fish, and then wrapped it in a lettuce or perilla leaf along with kimchi, raw garlic, and watercress namul. What resulted was a perfect little seafood taco.
The portion-size was large, and filling enough that we had trouble finishing it all in one sitting. If you have the same issue, I would recommend trying your best and refraining from getting a to-go box for your pile of raw fish!
If you are at Noryangjin market it makes sense to visit two noteworthy places in the nearby vicinity: Yeouido park and Seoul National Cemetery. Our visit to the fish market coincided with the cherry blossom season so we were eager to get outside.
The Seoul National Cemetery is right outside of Dongjak station (동작역).It is a meditative place, with many relics and museums that educate people on the heavy price that many Korean families had to pay for the Republic of Korea’s nationhood.
Afterwards, we finished the day at the Yeongdeungpo Yeouido Spring Flower Festival (영등포 여의도 봄꽃축제). We walked miles under a roof of pink and white cherry blossoms, enjoying the calming space of spring.
Noryangjin Address: 674 Nodeul-ro, Noryangjin 1(il)-dong, Dongjak-gu, 서울특별시
Take line 1 to Noryangjin Station and get off at exit 1. Cross the bridge and you will see the 63 building.