EXPLORING KOREA: Noryanjin Fish Market

by Petra Walker, 11/01/2009

Noryanjin is probably one of the less explored markets in Seoul; it is however well worth a visit, both for the fresh seafood and for an abundance of photo opportunities. I arrived with a group of fellow photogaphers one rainy Saturday afternoon and was extremely relieved to see that it is completely under cover.

The fish market is large and is predominately a wholesale market in the early hours of the morning, turning into a retail market later on in the day. If you want to catch the fish auction, I am reliably told you need to be there around 2 o’clock in the morning! The day’s fish prices are prominently displayed on a board above the main walkway.

The market caters for every taste in fish from those who like to choose their dinner from an array swimming around in a fish tank to those who prefer theirs already cleaned, filleted and packed in labeled boxes in a freezer. The familiar and the unfamiliar were present in equal proportions – oysters and mussels vied with sea cucumbers and sea lemons for space on the stalls. Other stalls sell knives, drinks or a variety of spicy Korean side dishes.

It took me several minutes to remember why I was there, as I took in all the sights, sounds and scents of the place. Stallholders were mostly amused at this group of budding photo-journalists; some even wet their fish to make them more attractive or pointed to more unusual species to see our reactions.

All the fish looked fresh and tempting, from the large pinkish underbellies of the rays arranged in rows to the silvery, almost scale-less gar fish piled high in baskets (these fish are wonderful barbequed) or the mottled blues of the more familiar mackerel. You could chose from a buying slice off a tuna or a shark or take a gamble at preparing your own blowfish at home. We watched as fish were chosen and prepared on the stalls for customers to take home as fresh as if they had just come off the fishing boats themselves.

All this was making us hungry! Temptation was finally overcome when we saw large boxes of fresh oysters for only 5,000 Won. Looking to find somewhere to eat them and starting to wonder how we would open them without a penknife, we were beckoned down some stairs where we found a small restaurant. For a cover charge of only 2,000 Won each, which included water, fresh raw vegetables and kimchi (of course!) they cleaned and opened the oysters for us while we bought a lemon from one of the vegetable stalls just outside the market. They were absolutely devine.

Seeing other customers eating freshly cooked prawns, fish stew and shellfish, we ventured back into the market where we bought more – a large spider crab and some prawns to share. By this time it was around 5pm and the market and cafes were getting busier with families coming to choose their supper to be cooked on site.  The traffic was getting heavier and it was nearing time to leave.

For those who don’t want to battle the traffic to visit Noryanjin, it is easy to get to on Line 1, just one stop from Yongsan station (136). As you come out of the station go up the steps to the overpass, but turn right instead of crossing the road. You will have to go into the building and go down stairs to reach the market.

Photo by Petra Walker

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