Wanting to witness marine life without the cost of an aquarium entrance fee? Craving fresh seafood at 2am? Not to worry…the famous Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market, located in the Noryangjin-dong neighborhood of the Dongjak-gu ward of Seoul, is open 24 hours and is absolutely free to explore. The fish market that never sleeps offers a unique view of South Korea’s specialty marine specimens that await their culinary fates.
Situated just a two-minute walk away from the Noryangjin station, the vibrant and colorful market was deemed one of the favorite free attractions for travelers to visit. From shrimps of all sizes, mollusks of varying species, to crabs and lobsters of a spectrum of colors, octopus, and even sea cucumber (this is just a few to mention), there are over 830 seafood items available for viewing or purchase at Noryangjin. And in case you were wondering, should you choose to purchase from the market, you can opt to have your fresh seafood items cooked on the spot in the cozy restaurants upstairs for an additional fee. So come one and come all, for great window shopping, superb photo opportunities, or a delectable cultural and culinary seafood experience.
Pretend to be a local for a day as you explore the quiet neighborhood of Noyangjin-dong
Nestled in the visitor-acclaimed “slower” neighborhood of Noryangjin-dong, residential streets, local pubs and eateries are dispersed throughout the area to serve its local audiences as a small college town near Chungang University. That’s what’s nice about the Noryangjin Fisheries Market—while you are aware it is a hot tourist attraction, the area surrounding it and within holds a very local vibe so visitors are able to take in an authentic experience. Initially established in 1927 in Jung-gu near Seoul Station, Noryangjin moved to its current location in 1971. Since then, it has been a mecca for Korean seafood vendors, restaurant suppliers, fishermen, and both local and international tourists.
Weave in and out of live seafood stalls at the bustling Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market
From the Noryangjin station, you will cross a cement bridge to follow steps down to overlook the vast, wonderfully chaotic and colorful market. Take a moment here to awe at the enormous amount of vendors and activities going on, as you have a bird’s-eye view of it all. This fisheries market is not your typical dreary, pungent, dark, and wet one you’d find of the sketchy variety. Quite the contrary, once descending the steps down to the market, expect to walk into a cold warehouse, scented with the aromas of Seoul’s freshest sea creatures sitting on ice. Hundreds of stalls line the space in rows—organized by creature category (i.e. shellfish in one section, crustaceans in another, fish in another row, etc.). Tip: Do bring something warm to wear, as the market is kept at low temperatures to keep the seafood alive and fresh.
Enjoy the interactive market experience by using your five senses on the seafood: touch, see, smell, taste, and BUY
The Noryangjin market presents an interactive experience between buyers, sellers, and of course—the marine life (aka your next meal). With the permission of stall owners and their hope of you purchasing one of their catches, you can ask to take photos, touch the creatures, and haggle prices for the taking. Despite being a hot tourist attraction, Noryangjin has hundreds of serious local buyers and sellers from restaurants and supermarkets conducting business each day. Wholesale auctions begin after midnight and go on until dawn.
Buyers can purchase in bulk, by the quantity, or by the kilogram—and did I mention they sell at wholesale prices? Do remember to haggle, as this is expected. Otherwise, you may be paying a hefty price for your seafood. You can also opt to take your purchase home for later cooking or you can have it cooked to your liking in the restaurants upstairs. I was able to buy a whole king crab and 8 medium-sized sea snails for a total of 40 USD. You will, however, have to pay the restaurant a small amount for the side dishes, prep work, and any drinks. Once making your transaction, you would be led upstairs to one of the restaurants where they would cook your selected seafood to your liking.
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Take your fresh seafood purchases upstairs to be cooked and eaten on the spot
The restaurants in the upstairs corridors of Noryangjin are specifically for preparing the products at the market. Most are small spaces, set up in a traditional sit-on-floor/shoes-off style. The restaurants bustle with happy eaters, with the sounds of shell-crunching and the smell of fresh-cooked seafood in the air. Often, the restaurants will prepare your seafood steamed, fried, sashimi’d, or in a soup—all based on your preference, with a side of Korean garnishes and a bowl of rice.
I can’t really say that I enjoyed the sea snails as they turned out hard and rubbery, but the crab was a different story… the simple steamed crab, sweet and succulent, practically melted in my mouth. I held a pair of scissors in one hand to cut the shells open and broke off crab claws with the other as I practically inhaled the meat, using chopsticks to poke, pull, and pick up my food. There really is no graceful way to eat crab, but eating your fresh purchase just might be the most rewarding way to end a day exploring the seemingly never-ending seafood stalls at the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market.
Visiting the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market offers more than meets the eye
Of the many mouth watering and curiosity-peaking reasons to visit the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market, it is not difficult to find yourself persuaded to pay a visit. With just over 10 minutes to get there by Seoul metro from downtown, an array of things to see, smell, and eat, along with an unforgettable experience to enjoy a half day spent here starting in the early morning hours would be an easy itinerary item requiring little to no planning and do-able on a budget. It’s one experience to schlop around a cold pungent fish market, with flies buzzing over the dead sea carcasses in dim lighting.
The Noryangjin Fisheries Market offers so much more as a bustling establishment, holding the essence of Seoulian marine commerce with vendors as fresh and lively as their colorful catches-of-the-day. The high ceilings of the fisheries warehouse ventilates what would be odorus fish musk into an aroma of sea life, which surprisingly induces one’s hunger and craving of fresh seafood. And in the event that visitors would want to shell out a few won to taste the delectable delicacies of South Korea’s seas, the nearby restaurants are happy to take your purchases off your hands to prepare them for consumption.
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