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In this post, I am going to talk about my favorite thing to do in Seoul – The Fish Market.
However, if you don’t feel like reading, then watch my 3 minute video where I documented my experiences at this market (and you can also see me eating a live octopus!)
Simply put, if you are coming to Seoul, then you must visit the Noryangjin Fish Market.
I’ve been to fish markets all over the world- like the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, the Bergen fish market in Norway, and Pike Place in Seattle. I am telling you that nothing is comparable to the insane experience that you will get at Noryangjin in Seoul.
This 24-hour, wholesale fish market is not a tourist attraction. It’s the real Korea. Whenever I have a friend or family member visiting me, this is the first place that I take them because it’s my #1 favorite thing to do in Seoul. I’ve been over a dozen times since I moved here.
But before I proceed, here are some quick facts:
– Established in 1927
– Largest marine product market in Korea
– Covers over 66,000 square meters in an open-air warehouse
– Stays open 24 hours
– Prices are 30-40% cheaper than supermarkets and department stores, because it’s a wholesale market
So, what is so special about this fish market?
Firstly, there are over 1,000 different seafood items and nearly everything is alive, swimming in the tanks. It’s literally impossible to get seafood fresher than this, as the fish are brought to this market daily from the nearby sea.
Some of the most common fish sold in this market are clams, crab, flounder, shrimp, sting ray, octopus, sea cucumber, halibut, lobster, eel, sea bass, snappers and more. If you can’t find your aquatic friend here, it most likely doesn’t exist in Korea.
The atmosphere inside the fish market is complete chaos. The strong fishy smell alone may overwhelm you. When walking around, it might feel like you’re seeing a continuous aquarium because of all the tanks of swimming fish. It seemingly goes on forever, with rows and rows of squirming fish.
When a customer is interested in buying a fish, they will negotiate and haggle with the vendor for their desired price. Typically, there is a crowd of interested people observing behind each transaction. The process includes the vendor weighing the flopping fish on a large scale to check the price. Once the customer and seller agree on a price, this fish is sold and…
The vendor aggressively jabs a sharp spear through the fish’s head on the floor. Without any warning whatsoever. It’s more intense than it sounds, and slightly makes me cringe every time I see it. If you’ve ever wanted to see a fish flopping out of water, then this is your prime-time chance. A few times, I even got fish juice squirted on my pants. It’s bizarre because no one around makes any reaction, because they’re used to this sort of process.
I am telling you that witnessing this happen with your own eyes is worth the experience. I don’t know anywhere else in the world that has a process similar to this fish market.
So, which fish should you buy?
I have tried many different types of seafood here, but my ultimate favorite is the King Crab. It’s so soft and juicy that it literally melts in your mouth. They crabs are extra meaty, and cost anywhere from $30-50 USD for an entire crab. If you’re not a crab fan, then check out the fresh sashimi which is also very tasty.
Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, then you can try some live octopus (산낙지)! Eating live octopus is common in Korea, and it’s been a tradition for centuries. It’s usually served chopped up and squirming around on the plate. You dip it in some sesame oil, butter and spicy sauce. The octopus will stick to your tongue, your chopsticks and your cheeks before you chew it and swallow it raw. It’s such a unique and awesome experience that only exists in Korea!
Want even more of a challenge? You can eat an entire octopus LIVE in one bite! I did it when my friends visited Korea, and it was the most insane 25 minutes of my life to chew that sucker down.
Check out this video to see me eating a live octopus in ONE BITE!
Ok, so now you’ve picked out your fish, where to eat it?
This is another unique part about the fish market- the restaurants.
Immediately after you purchase your fish, the vendor will take you to one of the many restaurants around the fish market. Most restaurants on the second and third floor, and others are surrounding the market.
Dining in one of the local restaurants is a must, and a traditional Korean experience!
You’ll walk inside the restaurant holding your live fish in a plastic bag. The friendly people inside the restaurant will cook it for you, and serve it to your table. They’ll also serve some side dishes like kimchi, vegetables and rice, and you can also order some beer and soju (recommended). If you get the king crab, then they will steam it for you and serve fried rice inside of the head of the crab. Yes, it’s like crab flavored fried rice, and it’s the most heavenly thing on the planet.
In case you don’t fully understand the process that I just explained, I must reiterate:
The local restaurants in the fish market don’t serve their own food besides side dishes and beer. You bring inside your own fish (that you just bought at the market) and they will cook it for you! How awesome is that?
Of course, the restaurant has to make some money, so they’ll charge you a small fee (usually between $5-10 USD per person) for their service. The restaurants are Korean style, so you’ll be asked to take off your shoes and sit on the floor with a matt under your butt.
For an extra local experience, head over to the fish market around 2 AM, when the live auctions begin (except Sundays and Holidays). All sorts of fish are auctioned off, at an extremely fast rate. If you turn your head away for a second, then you can miss out on the sale of kilos worth of fish. The fish vendors are ultra competitive, so get ready to see some haggling, screaming and potential fighting.
It doesn’t get any more local than this!
Here are 5 tips to keep in mind before you go:
Tip #1: Make sure your camera is fully charged
Tip #2: Mentally prepare your senses so you won’t be overwhelmed
Tip #3: Wear anything but sandals (unless you want fish juice on your feet)
Tip #4: Come hungry, because you are about to eat the best fish of your life
Tip #5: Get ready to negotiate
Location of fish market
By metro, take Line 1 to Noryangjin Station and get off at Exit 1. Then, follow the signs and walk 100 meters over the bridge.
As always, thanks for reading 🙂
Have you ever been to this fish market?
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