The long walkway of Noryangjin’s Fish Market as seen from its entrance.
By Gregory Curley
Noryangjin is Seoul’s oldest and largest fish market. The huge, dizzying sprawl of its 66,000 square foot weathered warehouse, teeming with seafood as far as the eye can see, houses both its vendors and hordes of eager, early risers scurrying about over slippery floors in search of the freshest catch. As prices here fall roughly 20~30 percent below what the larger, surrounding retailers advertise, the early dawn poses no timely challenge for those willing enough to get ahead of the game. With more than 700 shops opening their doors from 3a.m., selection is endless.
A visit through will have one witnessing the colorful, relentless, twenty-four hour frenzy of activity taking place in blurry streams as hurried souls work seamlessly together in order to fuel the flow. Bids are called out to the cacophonous cries of competing recipients from the auction floor nearby, coolers are whisked through on trolleys down narrow walkways flanked by displays of glistening fish on swelling beds of ice and the drumming of cutting boards echoes throughout as utensils pound and carve. All wonderfully synchronized, Noryangjin is truly a spectacular hub and an essential cultural experience.
Seoul established its first fish market in 1927, in the area of Seodaemun-dong. The country’s railway infrastructure at the time was firmly in place, and its close proximity to Seoul Station proved to be an ideal location. However, in 1975, as urbanization grew together with the automotive industry, the old market was closed down in favor of its current, and more centralized, establishment.
The seafood industry has seen tremendous growth over the years as national income continues to increase. With total trade volume ballooning in the millions, cargos are brought in from fifteen ports over all three coasts of the peninsula to shoulder rising demand. The busiest months of the year are March through May in the spring, and September to early December in the fall. July and August are the slowest months. Yet, as this writer marveled this morning in the early dawn, even the slow months can prove to be equally as exciting.
The market can best be reached by subway. Simply take Line 1 and get out at Noryangjin Station. The entrance is a short distance away across the bridge.