One of the best places to visit in Seoul is Noryangjin Fish Market. It’s like an aquarium where you can eat the exhibits. Unlike a lot of fish markets around the world, many of the fish are still alive in tanks. Because of that, it doesn’t smell as rank as other markets.
This is a new guide because Noryangjin has gone through a transition from the Old Building to the new one.
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When To Go
This isn’t like many fish markets around the world. Many of the fish are living in aquariums. They’re not decaying on a counter. The freshness of the fish is the same all times of the day.
The only things I’ve observed over the years is that it will get busy Friday and Saturday in the late afternoon and early evening. Groups of salary workers and seafood partiers are venturing out to get their catch for an evening of Neptunian bacchanalia.
Noryangjin Station is one of Seoul’s most confusing. The reason is that there are two unconnected stations on two different lines. There are TWO EXIT 1s!
The original station connects to Line 1, the dark blue line. The new station connects to Line 9, the gold line, the only privatized subway line in Seoul.
Line 1 Method
If you’re coming from Line 1, you’ll be above ground. The least confusing way is to go out Exit 2. Go up the stairs from the platform. You’ll see a lot of street food vendors in the station. Head right and go out the turnstiles. There should be a convenience store and a coffee shop with an escalator and stairs. Go down the stairs and continue going straight, following the road.
You’ll pass exits 8 and 7. Keep going. There will be a tunnel on your right. Go through there, and you’ll make it to the market.
Line 9 Method
Resurface at exit 7. Go straight, following the road, and turn right into a tunnel. There will be vendors sitting on the ground. That’s a sign you’re getting close. You’ll get through the tunnel and find yourself at the entrance to the main market.
|A NOTE ON THE VENDORS|
They’re not aggressive. They’re assertive. They’re competitive. The shellfish and live “swimming fish” vendors are most so. It’s rude to play with the seafood without buying. Always smile and be polite. Don’t let them push you around, though. Just move on.
Don’t worry about getting cheated. There are Noryangjin apps in Korean that keep up to date with seafood prices. I’ve found that the Noryangjin vendors generally sell their wares a hair higher than the places that cater exclusively to restaurants. They don’t fleece tourists. They’re good folk.
On the right, outside, you may see what’s left of the old building. The transition from the old building to the new has taken a few years.
The New Building
The old building was open air and rougher. It had a lot of charm. The new building seems more like a shopping mall. The positive change is that the restaurants are cleaner.
Take a look at the map.
The main landmark to orient yourself on the first floor is the escalator. There aren’t many vendors in the green area.
The vendors are similar to what you saw in the Old Building. Maybe more lobster. Just wander here. I wouldn’t buy any seafood yet. There’s so much exploring to do.
Green – Fresh but dead seafood
Lavender – Frozen
Blue – Live fish
Orange – Shellfish
|ABOUT THE AUCTIONS|
This isn’t like the fish market in Tokyo. I’ve seen auctions in various markets. They aren’t as exciting. Kinda subdued. Beside, we have all this live seafood in the area. It’s just as fresh at 6 p.m. as it is at 4 a.m.
After a good wander, go up the escalator.
The second floor is where I do business. I buy my foods and eat them here. I like the restaurants. They’re so much cleaner than they were in the Old Building. I don’t have to be on the watch for cockroaches. Many of the restaurants are connected to specific vendors. They’re mostly named after famous seafood areas in Korea. The move to the New Building has made it possible for new types of restaurants and pubs to spring up.
This is what I usually like to do and see.
Knife Shop (Section D)
At the top of the escalator is a knife vendor. This is good for souvenirs. Just make sure that you put the knives in your checked luggage. These are good quality sashimi knives that will shave the hair off your arm.
Salted Seafood Marketplace
This is my favorite part of the whole market. All these fermented salted seafood. These are used to make kimchi, muchim (salads), to put on steamed pork wraps, and to just eat on the side. There are toothpicks available to try samples. The fun is just trying things. Don’t even try to guess what they are. I’ve had guests on my tours like some things so much, they bought a small pack to bring back to the hotel. One of my guilty pleasures is the spicy smothered raw oysters with some buttery Ritz or Zec crackers. It helps to have a bottle of water with you.
Live Octopus Corridor (Section H)
If you want to try the squirming octopus, you can ask for it here. In the past, the vendors have set us up with an impromptu table with chopsticks and dipping sauce.
Ask for SAN NAKJI 산낙지. <– useful Korean word
Fried Shrimp Stand
They sell not only fried shrimp. Other fried goodies and bottled craft beers occupy the menu. THIS is the new Noryangjin.
Other Notable Restaurants
In section F, there are a fried seafood drinking spot and a Japanese sushi restaurant. They are both great. If you don’t want to deal with the vendors, you’ll have just as good of a time in any of those places.
Second Floor Vendors (Sections C & G)
This is where I usually get my seafood. The dotted circle is the specific vendor I go to out of habit. I’ve dealt with them before, and they know what I like. There’s a woman selling octopus and shellfish and a man selling live fish. Many vendors have restaurants. The guys I buy from are connected to Haeundae 해운대, which is named after Busan’s most famous beach. A live fish will run you W30,000 to W50,000. Just point and gesture how many of fish and shellfish you want.
|NOTE ON KOREAN SASHIMI|
Korean “sashimi” is called “hwe.” The vendors will say, “Sashimi,” because that’s the word they know tourists know. Unlike Japanese sashimi and sushi, it’s not aged. It’s fresh. It much firmer than sashimi and has a clean ocean taste. The most common hwe are flounder/sole, rockfish, salmon, and tuna.
Oh, you want some Korean words? Here you are.
Common Swimming Fish
I’m including the official romanization and a rough pronunciation guide in parentheses.
Flounder – Gwang-eo (Gwahng-uh) 광어
Rockfish – U-reok (Oo-rock) 우럭
Salmon – Yeon-eo (Yuhnuh) 연어 <–not sold live
Tuna – Chamchi 참치 <–not sold live
Common Shellfish and Other Critters
Shrimp – Sae-u (SEH-oo) 새우
Oysters – Gul (Gool) 굴
Clams – Jogae 조개
Scallops – Garibi (GAHreebee) 가리비
Abalone – Jeonbok (John-boak) 전복
Sea Worms (the penis fish) – Gaebul (GEH-bool) 개불
Sea Cucumbers – Haesam 해삼
Korean Seafood Restaurant
After you choose and pay for your catch, someone will guide you to the connected restaurant. They’re pretty much all the same, so don’t resist. They’ll likely want to get you going before your fish is dispatched and sliced up. If you want to watch the gruesome sight of how animal becomes food in five minutes, stick around.
When you enter the restaurant, the server at the front likely will ask you how you want everything set up. They’ll know right away which one is sashimi. For the other things, if you don’t know, just nod and agree. I’ve had great surprises that way.
Many times the shellfish will be steamed (jjim 찜) or grilled (gwee 구이).
I particularly ask for the shrimp to be salt grilled (sae-u sogeum gwee 새우소금구이). The result is a shell so brittle that you can eat the shrimp shell and all.
The scallops are good steamed. Sometimes you can get them grilled in butter, called “Butter Gwi 버터구이.”
The squirming live octopus, again, is called San Nakji 산낙지. I don’t recommend trying to eat one whole. In fact, the server likely will refuse to serve it that way because it’s too dangerous. In a way, it’s crueler than quickly chopping it up with a knife. Even though the chopped octopus is squirming, it’s no longer alive. I’ve timed it twice. It takes fifteen full minutes to eat an octopus whole. Get it chopped.
After they take your catch, they’ll guide you to a table. Order your drinks. Soju is the traditional choice, but I also like to have some beer (maekju).
You’ll have some sauces set out for you.
- Soy sauce and wasabi — The classic
- Vinegared chili sauce (Cho-gochujang) – This is the typical Korean style dipping sauce. I like mixing it with wasabi, making it taste a lot like cocktail sauce.
- Pohang sauce – It’s a mix of fermented bean paste (Doenjang), chopped garlic, chopped green chilies, and sesame sauce. It originates from the southeastern port of Pohang. Mix it up. It’s great!
And that’s it!
Sit back and enjoy. You deserve it.
Oh, one more thing…
Mid-way through your meal, ask for Maeuntang (MAY-oon-tahng) 매운탕. It’s a spicy boiling soup made with the bones of your fish, along with healthy greens. I like taking some of the leftover sashimi and dipping them in the soup like shabu-shabu. This is the traditional way to end a proper Korean hwe meal.
I always have DVD bonus extras.
One of my favorite secret corners of Seoul is Cup Rice Street (Cup Bap Geori 컵밥거리), right on the other side of Noryangjin Station. It’s a row of streetside vendors catering to students studying for professional exams. Cheap. Lots of variety. Unique. And Good.
Be on the lookout for the infamous Bomb Rice (Poktan Bap 폭탄밥). It’s a super spicy variation of Bibiimbap.
Here’s how to get there.
Exit the New Building and head towards a tunnel. Exit and walk east to the subway station. Cross the main road and follow the street. Pass a McDonald’s and a gas station before you get there.
ONE MORE NOTE
I want to thank Dino for pushing me to create this guide.