If you’re looking to get your hands on some of the freshest seafood in Seoul, the Noryangjin Fish Market (노량진 수산시장) won’t disappoint! Visitors interested in seafood or unique places in general will have their sights and senses thoroughly stimulated by the plethora of wondrous sea creatures available for decadent consumption.
You can find the market by going to Noryangjin Station (노량진역) either by subway line 1 or line 9. Be aware that if you go through line 9, you will have to go towards the older line 1 from exit 2. Once you are near the exit, you will see a footbridge north with the 63 building as a guide. Simple walk across the bridge and you’ll find an entrance on the left side which leads to a staircase towards the market. Do watch out for the stairs leading to the ground level, as I almost tripped on those notorious downward sloping steps of death.
This place is the largest fish market in Seoul with a seemingly endless number of vendors. Upon entering, you get a bird’s eye view of more stalls than the eye can see. There are a couple of restaurants and offices on the balcony floor. There’s also a bathroom, but it’s not for the squeamish.
I was most surprised with the lack of fishy smell. The air almost felt fresh like stepping outside on a winter day (granted it was winter) with only minor hints of fish here and there. Granted during the summer it might be a different story, but I’m pretty sure these fish mongers know what they’re doing given that they’ve been in business for over 75 years.
There appears to be some sort of organization with the vendors by rows. The first row you encounter will be full of live seafood and fish, with the middle rows a mix of fish on ice, and the last rows filled with prepped banchan (반찬). There are some exceptions and I do recommend going through the whole market to find the more unique vendors.
I was quite impressed with the live seafood. Some of the first stalls I saw were full of live king crabs, lobsters, snow crabs, clams, mollusks and fish. The king crabs alone could average 100,000 won (~100 USD). The size of the lobsters was particularly shocking as I saw a few stalls stocking lobsters much larger than the average size I would find back in the states. They were much larger than the king crabs in stock. I’m quite an animal lover and love to see large, majestic specimens, but seeing them cramped up in tanks made me a bit sad.
I felt a bit bad with the way the animals get treated, but understand that it is common practice to keep the animals alive for as long as possible. Some fish were subjected to being left on the ground to suffer while the vendor and customer were haggling. Other times, vendors used hooks instead of a more effective blunt club to knock out the fish. You should be mentally prepared if you get queasy looking at live animals being butchered like I do.
There were a lot of fresh sea creatures on ice as well. Some of the notable ones were the gigantic prawns and large octopuses.
The Noryangjin fish market is bustling with energy and amazing sights. Be sure to visit it and be careful of the delivery motorcycles that like to go through the main road. It can be quite a hectic area, but is a perfect spot for a cheap date or a good meal!