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Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market

Recent Posts, Posted by Matt in ALL DESTINATIONS,Food & Drink,Seoul,Shopping,Video, 13 Comments

Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market


A fresh, briny smell emerges about halfway across the overpass that connects Noryangjin Station (노량진역) to the roof of a weathered warehouse. After turning left into a stairwell and descending two flights, you’ll see long rows of fish tanks stacked three and four high. Brimming with sea creatures familiar and exotic, the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market (노량진수산시장) showcases a diversity of marine life befitting a nation surrounded by the sea.


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At hundreds of stalls, squid caught off Ulleungdo island lay prostrate beside prized gulbi from Yeonggwang County. Imported Russian pollock and Canadian lobster add international flavor. While the scallops, oysters and rows of spooning prawns may look familiar, the tanks also feature bizarre, local delicacies. Monggae, a fluorescent orange sea squirt has roots on one end and rubbery spikes on the other. Taken as a whole, the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market is a striking contrast to the antiseptic neighborhood grocery store. In fact, a gullible visitor could be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t a market at all, but some kind of rustic aquarium.

From Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market (노량진수산시장)

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Instead, Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market is Korea’s largest wholesale fisheries market. Established in 1927 and relocated to the south bank of the Hangang river in 1971, the market serves 30,000 daily customers and supplies 40 percent of greater Seoul’s seafood. Each year, market operators estimate sales of 300 billion Korean won ($280 million).


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To process this extraordinary volume, the market is a 24-hour operation. While most Seoulites are fast asleep, at one o’clock AM a raucous, members-only auction begins on the warehouse’s second floor. Retail sales follow on the main level, where 700 fishmongers and fishwives rise at four AM to start their 18-hour day.

From Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market (노량진수산시장)

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Lest those long hours standing in cold and damp conditions suggest otherwise, Jang Hong-gun loves his job. The 20-year Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market veteran says the only downside is being too busy. His stall, #106, occupies a choice spot on the market’s main aisle. During the peak spring and fall seasons, a good day he’ll sell 200 fish, on a bad one less than 10.

From Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market (노량진수산시장)

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Whatever the volume, customer transactions usually follow a consistent script. A fish is selected from the tanks and a price is quoted. Cleverly, negotiations are conducted while the fish gasps in Jang’s hands, creating urgency. Market rates are already about 20-to-30 percent lower than you’ll find elsewhere, but a feisty customer can haggle away another 10 percent. Ultimately, an average-sized flounder runs about 20-to-25,000 won.

From Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market (노량진수산시장)

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If cooking fish this fresh seems almost heretical, Jang will turn your “catch” into a platter of hwae, or Korean-style sashimi set atop shredded cabbage. To this end, his stall includes a wood counter stocked with Spartan supplies – knives, Styrofoam plates and a large roll of plastic wrap. As he deftly cleans, skins, de-bones and slices the fish, I ask him for the secret of fish prep. Eyes fixed on the fillet he pauses momentarily, and then resumes with a succinct reply, “Everyone has their own style. I can’t explain it in words. For me it’s in the movement.”

From Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market (노량진수산시장)

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Minutes later, Jang’s wife, Kim In-soon, escorts the platter downstairs to Jungang Sikdang (중앙식당), one of a dozen-or-so seafood restaurants located inside the market. For a flat fee of just 3,000 won per head, diners receive a wicker basket filled with lettuce and sesame leaves as well as several condiments – hot pepper paste, soy sauce, raw slices of garlic and chili peppers. Kim says Jungang boasts the market’s best maeuntang, a spicy seafood stew made from vegetables and your fish’s carcass. Indeed, the fiery broth adds some kick to complement the fish’s subtle flavor. But for a different kick altogether, locals typically order a bottle of Korea’s favorite firewater, soju.

From Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market (노량진수산시장)

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Hunger satiated, there should be one more pit stop on your Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market itinerary. Although the market is best known for fresh seafood, its northwest end specializes in jeotgal. These salted and fermented seafood pastes are used as flavoring and to pickle kimchi. Among the vendors is Ryu Yang-seon. The indefatigable 79-year-old is known as “the books grandmother” for using her profits to fund textbooks and over 150 scholarships for needy students.

From Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market (노량진수산시장)

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Spending a few minutes with Grandma Ryu or fishmonger Jang inevitably raises questions. Why do we shop at so-called “super”-markets when traditional and specialty markets like Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market are usually cheaper and more fresh? After all, in addition to being a fun and delicious way to spend a few hours, Noryangjin’s 4,000 merchants, mongers and wholesalers help reconnect us with our food. What’s more, few experiences can capture Korea’s vibrancy as an evening spent at one of Seoul’s bustling marketplaces..
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For your information…

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Open 24 HoursDepends on vendor and purchase. Prices typically 20-30% cheaper than retail.02-987-1010, 02-815-8416
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Dongjak-gu Noryangjin 1(il)-dong 13-8Noryangjin Station (#136/#917) on Lines 1 & 9, Exit 2website
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13 Comments

16 March 2013 20:07

Carla Diaz

Hi Matt! I love seeing and reading your blogs, since i love Korea, i’m having fun looking at it, it felts like i am there and i belong. Maybe one of these days i’ll visit there. My bestfriend and i are planning to go there mid of this year, hopefully. Thanks! xx

Carla from Philippines

March 17 2013 01:08 am

Matt

Hi Carla,
Thanks for your nice note. I hope you and your friend's travel plans pan out!
Best, Matt

28 April 2013 09:59

Gail

Will they cook your fish for you or is it only served raw after cleaning? Although the sashimi looks good, not all in my group will eat that. And is the soup just flavored with the bones? Thanks for your help!

May 03 2013 06:34 am

Matt

Hi Gail,
After cleaning, most (all?) of the stalls will walk your plate of sashimi (called 'hwae' in Korean) to one of the few restaurants attached to the market, along with your bag of fish bones and guts. The spicy soup is made from the latter. I assume they could also cook your sashimi, though I'm sure the idea would seem quite strange to them :) For your cooked fish companions, I'd suggest ordering a few huge deep fried prawns.
Have fun!
Best,
Matt

14 May 2013 02:53

Bob Couratte Hong

If some in your group will not eat it, I suggest not going to Seoul or Korea at all, as this will be a slap in the face to the entire country.

When in Rome, do as the romans. Time for your colleagues to grow up, or stay home in their safe little shells.

July 15 2013 03:02 am

Matt

Hi Bob,
Yikes! While it would certainly seem odd to most of the fish mongers for a customer to request that fish best served raw be cooked, in my experience, most Koreans are accustomed to foreigners being "weird." My guess is that they'd prefer for Gail's group to visit, purchase and enjoy a meal at the market, cooked or raw, than go elsewhere! I agree, however, that travelers should always try to be respectful (and ideally knowledgable) about host cultures.
Best, Matt

20 November 2013 12:08

Ad Adnan

Your blog is so informative, it provides a lot of help in my planning (I’ll be in Seoul for a week in march next year ). Due to my religion, I’m more restrictive in terms of my diet but oh Korean food are just mouth watering.

I’ve lived in 4 countries and what I learned is to keep an open mind when you are traveling. You are never the odd one out or the normal one in.

Anyhu, continue the good work ;)

December 06 2013 04:01 am

Matt

Thank you so much!

22 February 2014 03:40

Chanel @ LaViajeraMorena

You really have a great and comprehensive site for all things Korea. I have to say that in my two years living in Korea I never once made it to Noryangjin, but I will definitely make a point of visiting when I return in the spring ^_^

March 03 2014 13:48 pm

Matt

Hi Chanel,
Thanks for your note and I hope you do. It's a lot of fun!
Best, Matt

26 March 2014 03:55

Sophie

Hello Matt!

I’m studying abroad in U.S.A and I’m homesick :(
Your blog makes me feel so much better with all those nice pictures of Korea!!! :)

Thank You,

Sophie

March 31 2014 02:55 am

Matt

Thank you for your note, Sophie. I hope you are enjoying your time in the USA despite being homesick! 화이팅!!^^

14 April 2014 20:12

rachel

Hi there Matt!
Am heading to Seoul in 2 days time and i have no idea or have an itinerary as yet.
And now I’m doing speed reading thru your site to plan!
;)
Any more secret tips where to head to in Seoul that is not the common tourist site, as in just the locals know it kinda place?
Be it restaurant, nature~for walk or pubs?
^^

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