Returning to Seoul from Chuncheon, Sookyoung 이모 brought us to Noryangjin Fisheries Market to have seafood for dinner. We have always wanted to try abalone after hearing some friends raving about it, and Noryangjin is the best place to get some. Visiting this place is an adventure in itself. My country is an archipelago and I’m no stranger to fish and other aquatic animals, but I’ve never seen so many unfamiliar sea creatures in my life. It’s like visiting COEX Aquarium but instead of just looking, I get to eat the animals on display afterwards.
Noryangjin Market is like the Korean version of our Dampa. Beside the market are “paluto” restaurants where you can have your purchased sea creatures cooked – or uncooked – to your liking. Koreans mostly go there to have a drink along with the seafood after a day’s work. In our case, we just went there to eat. No alcohol required.
We got some raw seafood to feast on along with fishbone stew (the unspicy version). The fish we got were super-fresh; it was so fresh, that the fish was still alive and wriggling even after the meat was sliced off from it.
I should’ve taken a video just to prove that the fish was still breathing despite having half of its meat sliced off, but it was a disturbing sight so maybe a photo would be enough.
This has got to be the best sashimi I’ve ever had in my life. There was absolutely no fishy taste, in fact the fish tasted like cooked meat. They gave us three options for dipping: the classic wasabi and soy sauce, gochujang, and a mixture of gochujang, sesame oil and garlic. Any of the three worked really well with the raw seafood.
Then again, fresh meat is one thing. Stuffing something that is too fresh, as in still ALIVE and MOVING, is another story.
The challenge: eat sannakji (live octopus).
It actually doesn’t taste bad. Let me rephrase that: the octopus doesn’t have any flavor. The flavor will come from the sesame oil/seeds where you will dip the octopus before putting it on your mouth. The challenge is to avoid having your tongue and insides of your mouth sucked by the octopus’ tentacles. You also cannot swallow the octopus while it’s still moving because it can choke you to death. Therefore, you must not stop chewing until you’re absolutely sure that the octopus was chewed into tiny little pieces that it cannot suck your mouth anymore.
Yes, I know it sounds disgusting. It’s nicer than it sounds, trust me.
Aside from sashimi and sannakji, we also had:
Sea squirts (the red ones) and sea slugs or what they called “pork from the sea” because it has the same texture as pig’s ears. The slugs are ok; I’m not too fond of the sea squirts because of the texture and the slightly fishy after-taste.
The one that we came to Noryangjin for: the uber-expensive abalone. Which I found a bit… underwhelming because the meat was tough. Or maybe I just expected too much? Maybe it’s better grilled instead of raw?
A meal of raw seafood at Noryangjin is usually capped by a drink of fish bone soup with rice. But since I only had an egg and a cup of pudding the entire day, I was too scared to eat raw food with practically nothing in my stomach. I was assured that the seafood was fresh so it’s safe to eat it on an empty tummy, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. We asked the restaurant ahjumma to serve the stew and rice immediately so that I could at least have some hot soup and rice in my stomach before I commence my battle with the live octopus. The stew tastes exactly like our pesang isda; it has a nice, familiar, comforting feel to it.
For those who are not adventurous enough, you may ask the restaurant to cook your food. I saw several tables where they shared an extra-large king crab, which we salivated over but we don’t have the budget for it. You may also order tempura if you want something a little bit less outrageous (and you have the budget, because three pieces of shrimp costs 7000 won).
We left the market several wons lighter, but our stomachs and most especially our souls fulfilled and satisfied. More than the great food, the experience of partaking in something that is unique to Korea is worth every penny we spent.