I am one that enjoy going to wet markets where fresh produce is sold. And even better if the markets offer a delicious meal and unique experience at the same time. This time I went to Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market in Seoul.
Shopping in an Aquarium
Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market (or commonly referred as Noryangjin Fish Market) is Korea’s largest seafood markets.
There are plenty of places around Seoul where tourists and visitors can go on their own, but the old Noryangjin was not one of them unless you have a good handle on Korea and haggling in Korean. So in 2016, the local government moved the vendors to the modern market next door and the situation improved. The transition from the old building to the new has taken a few years.
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.
Vendors are helpful and interested, and highly motivated (and competitive) to help you get what you want whether it be abalone or lobster or something else. They will grab a trusty calculator to help with the bargaining when they think you can’t speak Korean so use that if you need.
The narrow aisles are often wet down with water to wash away the blood and guts of seafood cleaned on the spot from the many stalls of fish, shellfish and other ocean edibles. The seafood are perched up on Styrofoam shelves or in tanks that seem to be overflowing constantly. To the uninitiated, choosing live seafood can be a daunting task but I’ve learned through experience to choose what is still alive and traditional market like these always have the best produce.
In Korean sashimi is called 회 “hoe”; the vendors will say “sashimi” because that’s the word they know tourists know. Unlike Japanese sashimi and sushi, Korean hoe uses fish that is not aged, i.e it’s freshly served from tank to plate. It much firmer than sashimi and has a clean ocean taste.
The most common hoe are flounder, rockfish, salmon and tuna. But for tonight’s dinner we picked the white fish – flounder (hirame), striped beakfish (ishidai), rockfish (mebaru), sea bream (madai). This is prepared at the fish store and not at the restaurant.
After selecting and paying for the live seafood, we proceeded to the restaurant that caught our fancy because of an endorsement by a familiar gourmet, Mr Chua Lam. He was born in Singapore and a Teochew kakinang but made his mark in Hong Kong writing for Mingpao (a local tabloid) food column. Depending on what you bought, you would be charged a “preparation” fees. So it worked out to be 55,000 won for the cooking and drinks, while the seafood cost 115,000 won.
Emperor’s Sikdang 皇帝食堂 황제회 양념집
서울 동작구 노들로 688 首爾市銅雀區鷺梁津1洞 水產市場2樓
Tel : 02-2254-7777
PS: There’s only one lady in the shop that spoke Mandarin. Most of the patrons were local when we were there and the place was constantly packed. They operate 24 hours.
The first time I tried the Gae-bul 개불 sea worms was in Yantai but it was sautéed with chives. Here, they simply served them sashimi with a sesame oil and salt dip. I wished they could cook it; it tasted like a chewy piece of gummy bear.
The Korean hoe is usually dipped in a red sauce called chojang 초장 made with gochujang, plum sauce and minced garlic. The sashimi is then wrapped in different leaves like ssam 쌈 Korean lettuce or kkaenip 깻잎 perilla leaves.
Due to difficulty in communication, the range of cooking techniques on our seafood was limited. Many times the shellfish will be steamed (jjim 찜) or grilled (gwee 구이). But if you want a really delicious shrimp, ask for them to be salt-grilled (sae-u sogeum gwee 새우소금구이).
The turban shells were grilled on the shell, pretty much they were cooked with their own juices. It was a sweet result (the term we used to describe seafood in Asia, what many would refer to as umami) with a very tender meat. There were no other flavours contaminating the sweetness of shellfish.
We bought some daenamu jogae 대나무 조개 bamboo clams and had it prepared in the style of nakji-bokkeum 낙지볶음 stir-fried octopus. It was a tad overcooked and the texture had become rubbery. We still prefer the Chinese method of steaming it with vermicelli and garlic.
At this point in time we needed some rice to go with the bokkeum.
Ggot-gae 꽃게 is Korea’s best-loved crab, prized for its sweet flesh and soft shell. Its wide carapace is a mottled green-grey-blue, which is probably why ggot-gae is often translated as “blue crab”. Ggot-gae is also sometimes called the swimmer crab in English and is the key ingredient for ganjang gejang, but the best way to enjoy the sweetness of the flesh is to simply steamed them if they are still alive and fresh.
It’s autumn and the best time for crabs as it’s the spawning season. The female blue crab was full of roe and I tried to mix it with the rice, but the experience was similar but not replicable like the ganjang gejang. The crab miso was sweet but did not have the satisfaction of the savouriness of the soy sauce.
After all the seafood and sashimi, we needed something warm in our tummy. We made a beginner’s mistake of not asking for the bones of the fish that we chose for sashimi; they are usually given to the client for making soup/stock.
Anyway, the restaurant was kind enough to take some of their own ingredients that they had set aside for their staff meal to make this outstanding maeuntang 매운탕 spicy seafood stew. It is a spicy soup made from the bones of your fish and some veg added in and the most common way to end a meal in a fish restaurant in Korea.
Everyone knows Tsukuji in Tokyo but Noryangjin is not so famous, but it should be. It is a vast fish market with tons of choice. We went to this market given the high review on the freshness. The food that we bought from the whole market were indeed very fresh and not too expensive. And we made the right choice of the restaurant to prepare them. Worth a visit for the experience.
Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market 노량진수산시장
674, Nodeul-ro, Dongjak-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 동작구 노들로 674 (노량진동)
Visited Nov 2022