I just returned from a family trip to Vietnam with my husband, son, sister, and my parents. (You may have seen some of our photos on Facebook and Instagram!) We have lots from the trip to share (I know, I still haven’t gotten around to posting about our last trip there in September!), but before that, I thought I’d finish up my series on Korea…
On one of our mornings in Seoul last November, we went out to the enormous Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market. The nice thing about this market is that, unless you want to see an auction (which takes place at 1am and 6:30am), there’s no need to get up super early, as it’s open throughout the day. We brought our toddler with us, so we took our time getting ready and finding our way there, and it was generally a very leisurely and pleasant excursion.
The place was not crowded at all on the Friday mid-morning we were there to select some fresh seafood for a pre-weekend brunch. At Noryangjin, you pick out your seafood on the lower level, and then you take it upstairs to one of the restaurants, where it is prepared for you.
We walked all around the fish market, taking everything in, before settling on this stall, mostly because the people were friendly.
Since we wanted to try several things, we asked for the least expensive fish to have raw, and they pointed us toward this flat fish, which I think was fluke. (It was still about $35, if I remember correctly.) The man filleted it on the spot and sliced it into sashimi pieces.
I’d heard about the infamous octopus sashimi (I’ll tell you why it’s infamous in a sec), and we were in agreement that we needed to experience it for ourselves. Here, the lady at the stall picked out a nice baby octopus for us.
My husband really wanted to try the roe, so we picked up a bit of that too.
The fish was the only thing prepared at the market. Everything else was put into bags, and the man at the market stall walked us upstairs to one of the restaurants, where, for a small fee, the chef will finish preparing the seafood and offer you a table and small dishes to accompany your meal.
I have to say, everything was much… chewier than I expected, even the fish. But I later learned that Koreans eat more firm, white-fleshed fish, whereas the Japanese prefer softer fish with more fat. In any case, it was all incredibly fresh and was very nice wrapped in shiso leaves with a dab of doenjang (fermented soybean paste), which I must point out was always really good in Korea — much stronger and more flavorful than the pastes I’ve had in the US.
The roe was also quite good. It was pretty salty, but the cook at the restaurant topped it with sesame oil, grated ginger, and chopped scallion, which balanced out the taste more. Because it was cured (and because we got roped into buying more than just a sample), we were actually able to pack most of this up, keep it in our guesthouse fridge, and bring it back with us to Beijing, where we enjoyed it with rice.
As for the infamous octopus sashimi known as sannakji, well, it was something of an experience. The octopus was brought to the restaurant whole, and the cook cut it into pieces in the back and brought it out on a plate… where the pieces were still writhing. I guess I have gotten so used to eating strange things that I was surprised to find even my own mother, who eats some pretty strange things herself, to be quite alarmed by this. When I sent her this video (click at your own risk), she wrote back “That is terrible. I would not eat it.” My sister, on the other hand, said, “Whoa that’s awesome.” Personally I didn’t feel as squeamish about this as some other things I’ve eaten (or not eaten), but I’ll just say that, going with the theme of the meal, this was also quite chewy, though squid and octopus have that tendency to begin with. Also, suction cups are involved, so if you do try it, be forewarned.
Finally, the fish bones from the fish sashimi were also saved and brought to the restaurant, where they were made into a soup cooked at the table. This is mostly what our toddler ate. :) It was a nice, warm finish to a lovely meal.
Overall, this was definitely a lot of food for the morning, though it helped that we had it more as a brunch. (And I am used to Asian breakfasts, where pretty much anything goes. :) ) Plus, it was generally light, healthy, as fresh as it gets, and also a lot of fun. Since the market is open 24 hours, this may be a good place to go for lunch or dinner as well, though I’m told most of the action takes place in the wee hours of the morning.
Noryangjin Fish Market 노량진수산시장 [map]
13-8 Noryangjin-dong, Dongjak-gu
동작구 노량진동 13-8
Phone: +82 2 814 2211
Subway: Noryangjin station, Line 1 or 9