Some may call it an aquarium of death, others a seafood lover’s paradise. Whatever your inclination, a visit to Seoul’s Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market is a one of a kind experience you won’t soon forget.
PashbyMaul Adventures was in Seoul for a conference last November, and with precious little free time explore the city, we had to pick and choose what highlights to see. While we always strive to stay off the tourist trail as much as possible, on our maiden voyage to South Korea we simply had to cram in what we could. As Uzbek residents for the next few years, seafood is something we rarely get to enjoy anymore. Thus Noryanjin Fish Market made the cut, and on our final evening in Korea we gleefully made our way towards the market via the expansive Seoul Metropolitan Subway.
Frequent visitors to fish markets worldwide understand the certain fishy atmosphere that seems to rather unpleasantly permeate everything in the vicinity. Not so at Noryanjin. Established in 1927, and moved to its current location in 1971, the fishiness in the air as you approach the market is in no way unpleasant, and instead serves as a kind of beacon for the curious and hungry alike as they make their way up the stairs from the metro and across the pedestrian bridge over the station before descending into seafood heaven.
Your first glimpse of the vastness of the market takes place as you emerge from a nondescript concrete stairwell. From this gallery level perspective the expansiveness of Noryanjin becomes clear. There isn’t really a way to plan a strategy as a one time visitor, but with this perspective you can at least appreciate the kaleidoscope like tapestry of sea creatures carefully arranged by fishmongers in their front row stalls that stretch nearly the entire length of the 300 meter building.
It doesn’t get much fresher than this. Stalls keep their catch alive until the moment it is sold to the customer. Many serve up fresh sashimi, or hoe (회), sliced right from the fish. Not a fan of raw seafood? No problem! Crabs, shrimp, lobster, shellfish – it’s all available – and waiting to cook it all up for you are several eat-in kitchens lining the back of the market. For a small fee, customers can take their “catch” to any of these restaurants for what might just be one of the freshest seafood experiences of your life. Chopsticks, water, and banchan (반찬) side dishes are included. Soju (소주) and beer are not.
Your authenticity meter will surely peak during a trip to Noryangjin. Sorry Seattle, but your Pike Place Market has nothing on this. For true lovers of seafood, a missed trip to this market on any trip to Seoul, no matter what the duration, is a missed opportunity you’re sure to regret.