Something Fishy: Noryangjin Fish Market
The Noryangjin Fish Market, located in Noryangjin-dong in Seoul is one of the more intense things I have experienced in our travels. From the moment I stepped foot into the market, all of my senses were on overdrive. Motorcycles were whizzing haphazardly up and down the small aisles, the fish sellers were calling out to prospective customers, I was trying not to slip on the wet ground, slick with salty water and fish blood, and then of course there was the overpowering smell of fish. The Noryangjin Fish Market is huge, the biggest of it’s kind in Seoul. It’s operated by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, and there are supposedly over 700 shops housed inside the market. If you are a seafood lover, this is your kind of place.
Our plan was to pick out a fish or two, and then take it to one of the restaurants under the market, where they then cook it for you however you choose. In theory, I loved this idea. In reality, it wasn’t as fun as I anticipated. I don’t know why I didn’t realize this, but you actually pick out a live fish, and then they either kill it for you right there, or you take it flapping in a bag down to the restaurant. Neither of those options appealed to me–I’ve become so much less squeamish about meat since coming to Korea, but I’m still not to the point where I want to see my dinner alive before I eat it. So after I panicked for a few minutes about the fish murder I was about to participate in, Andrew took pity on me and found a section of the market where the fish were already dead. I relaxed a little, at least I didn’t have to meet the fish before I ate them, but I was still queasy watching the woman scrape off the scales and gut our selection. I know, I’m a wimp. I’ve always been weird about meat!
We took our selection to the first restaurant we found, and then proceeded to wait for over 45 minutes for our fried fish and fish stew. It was a little weird, everyone around us was getting served much quicker, so we’re not sure if they forgot about us, or if we got bumped to the end of the line behind the Korean customers, but either way, the long wait didn’t really cheer me up. Finally the fish stew came out. I was prepared for this after nearly 5 months in Korea, but fish stew here includes the entire skeleton of the fish, even the head. So I tried to put on my big girl pants and enjoy the stew, but to be honest, it wasn’t that great. Just when I was thinking the whole fish market thing might have been a mistake (at least for me), our fried fish came out. This is also the entire fish, fried, head and all…but it was delicious. After the first few bites I got over the fact that the fish was staring right at me while I ate it, and just enjoyed the perfect, soft white meat! It was certainly an experience, although not one I really care to repeat any time soon.