Busan, Korea: Inside Jagalchi Fish Market
I had never eaten inside of the Jagalchi Fish Market (부산자갈치시장) main building before, but instead had always opted for walks through the wet, fish gut strewn umbrella covered alleys of the area.
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The old women crouching over their seafood goods with their wrinkly gruff facial expressions and handkerchief covered heads always intrigued me, but I never bought anything because I didn’t have anywhere to cook it. I didn’t live in Busan afterall and was always just there for a visit staying in the popular Nampo-dong or on the beach near Gwangalli. After perusing the alley goods, I’d wander into a nearby restaurant catering to the fish lovers and eat as much as I could. This trip however, some friends and I headed into the main building to see what it was all about and I’m sure glad we did.
Huge fish, shellfish, squid, octopus, shrimp and prawn the size of my forearm all under one roof. It was just as wet as the alleys and had just as many fish guts, but the lights were strong and anything purchased would be taken upstairs and prepared by waiting women to be eaten immediately. We looked over the options and the visiting tourists didn’t know where to begin. Vendors were ushering us this way and that hoping in the end, we’d choose them. Seafood my friends had never seen before and seafood they had seen but here was double in size of anything they’d get in Ohio. The fish were swimming and splashing, the octopus were trying to escape their tanks and the women were yelling out prices and waving to get attention. It definitely wasn’t like the markets back home.
As the only one in the group that could understand the sales pitches, I was thrust into the role of haggler and translator. Usually my husband handles fish negotiations and has a better understanding of which goods go together well. I sit and watch as he takes the reigns and before I know it, delicious dishes are in front of me to enjoy. As my friends had never seen anything quite like this market before, they immediately went for the things they recognized: shrimp, crab and lobster. Of course, these are also the more costly things and while my husband and his friends tend to go with some white fish and shellfish, my friends decided to go big.. and then go home.
Crab and lobster are expensive, but massive and it was decided that a lobster and two gigantic prawn would do. I added some munggae (멍게), or sea squirts, and gaebul (개불), or the commonly called “penis fish”, to the mix so there was something different on the table for them to try. You can’t come to Korea and NOT try “penis fish”. Right?? As soon as the goods were selected, they were cleaned, sliced and diced as needed and whisked upstairs to be prepared. Those at the tables near us ogled our huge lobster. Clearly not many people take a huge lobster upstairs to be prepared. The women upstairs immediately asked how we wanted things cooked and weren’t quite sure how lobster, prawn, sea squirts and gaebul were supposed to go together. This is one thing I love about Koreans. They have very specific foods that they think go together for a meal and then subsequently “know” which alcohol should go with it. Our mix and match of fishy foods wasn’t really what they were expecting. Sea squirts and gaebul are eaten raw and usually accompany hue, or Korean style sashimi, on the table. We had no other raw fish and they couldn’t understand why. I explained it was just to try and the real meal would be the steamed lobster and prawn. They headed into the kitchen to see what they could come up with.
All was prepared magnificently and though the visitors didn’t like the munggae or gaebul as much as the more common lobster and prawn, they still tried it and could go home to tell their friends of the strange fishy treats they had while in Korea.
“You ate something called “penis fish”?”
When in Korea…
After the meal was over, we headed out to walk along the umbrella covered fish gut strewn alley to end our time in the Jagalchi Fish Market. A successful trip and delicious meal accomplished.
If you’ll be headed to the beautiful southern coastal city of Busan, check out the Aria Boutique Hotel in Nampo-dong where a ton of action is always happening or stay on Gwangalli Beach at the Kent Hotel by Kensington. Both are in great locations and offer great stays.
If you’ll be visiting Busan, Jagalchi Market is one of the MUST SEE spots and MUST EAT spots. Delectable Korean cuisine in a traditional market. Also be sure to check out the Taejongdae cliffs for some scenic ocean views and dinosaur tracks in the rocks and don’t miss Haedong Yonggung Temple, or the seaside Buddhist temple. Let’s Eat Alley in Nampo-dong is also a great street food eating delight.
Jagalchi Fish Market
부산광역시 중구 남포동4가 37-1
37-1 4-ga Nampo-dong, Joong-gu, Busan, Korea
Bus: 5-1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 9-1, 11, 17, 26, 27, 30, 41, 61, 70, 71, 87, 103, 113, 134
Subway: Jagalchi Station Exit 10, turn right onto Jagalchi 3-gil Street
Open all year round
Highlights: October is the Jagalchi Fish Festival
Hours: 8AM – 10PM