Destination: Jagalchi Fish Market (Busan)
Jagalchi Fish Market, as seen from the Busan Tower.
The Jagalchi Fish Market should not be confused as a tourist destination, even though that’s what some Busan maps or tourist publications would have you believe. To go is to experience the commerical world of selling raw fish and other seafood products fresh from the sea. There’s no one posing for your camera, and if you want some shells to take home as a souvenir, you’d better be prepared to buy the whole lot. While certainly an enjoyable experience, going to the Jagalchi Fish Market and be a tourist is kind of like going to Costco / Sam’s Club and trying to get one snack-sized bag of chips.
With that warning in place, it was an incredible experience of sight, sound… and smell. I’ve never lived in an area that had a fish market (mainly thanks to living in landlocked states – fish was only seen with plastic film on top and a foam plate underneath), which didn’t prepare me for the smell. It’s not overwhelming or particularly powerful, but do expect it.
Arriving is simple enough: take the Busan subway to the Jagalchi subway station (although the fish market is actually in-between the Jagalchi and the Nampo-dong station), and look for the biggest building near the water. Alternatively, follow your nose – the market isn’t the only place where you can buy / see / smell fish, but the shops are congregated together.
The back of a sign as you exit Jagalchi Fish Market – where it’s more obvious what you’re expected to do.
Before I ventured into the building, I had seen some of the horizon peeking out, so I walked around to the backside of the building. There’s a great viewing area of the sea, the ships coming in or going out, and so on. Check out the panoramics for yourself: (click on each picture for a much larger view)
OK, back around to the front of the building to start this destination off right. I immediately noticed a row of trucks unloading their latest catches:
With my back to the main building (which I decided I’d save for last), I walked left to a covered open-air market.
For the most part, these ajummas (Korean for a married lady) sold similar fish / seafood across the board – mostly in ice, which didn’t last long on a hot day like it was today. I didn’t ask for prices, and none were displayed – making me suspect a serious amount of bargaining comes into play, or prices are flexible according to the day, how much of a certain kind of fish came in, etc….
Inside the Jagalchi Fish Market finally – where the entire first floor is nothing but fresh fish or seafood in tanks, trays, bowls, water, ice, and so on. Check out the pictures below:
A vendor weighing live fish – they were still jumping around while on the scale!
Don’t cross these ajumma – they worked those knives with accuracy and speed.
I now know where Fear Factor gets some of their ‘food’ from.
A fairly common display of fish – on ice, with no prices displayed (only a handful of vendors had a ‘price list’ out of perhaps hundreds). Inside the building was plenty of drainage – the ice melted straight into them.
Want to buy some shells as souvenirs? I couldn’t buy just one, or even a handful – you buy things in quantity. One red bowl of shells (bottom of the picture) – probably held around several hundred of the small ones and a few dozen of the larger ones.
Onward, and upward to the second floor. By going up one floor, the scene is transformed from a raw fish market to a restaurant / dried fish market. Um, not particularly crazy about dried fish products, but it’s nice to know it’s there. As for the restaurant side of things, this completely confused me. Similar tables, menus, foods, and prices – why or how do you choose one place over another? A Korean lady noticed my perplexed look, and asked, ‘sashimi?’ Um, sure, why not? It’s about 2:30pm and past the usual lunch time… Time to try something new…
Behold, sashimi – complete with all the side dishes no proper Korean meal should be without. The leaves of lettuce, I’m guessing, made the fish a bit like galbi (beef or pork you grill over charcoal at your table). Since these are raw fish, no charcoal was needed! Wrap your fish up in the lettuce, add some soy sauce, wasabi, or other spices, and eat the whole thing in one bite. A good place to get a meal, although the sashimi was essentially tasteless by itself.
Taking the escalator to the 3rd through 7th floors went essentially nowhere. Partially to blame was the time of the day (between lunch and dinner during a weekday). The 3rd floor had a convenience store and coffee shop, while the 5th and 6th floors house two different seafood restaurants, where I’m only guessing that the prices are as high as the restaurant is. After walking out to the front of the building, I spied an elevator that took you from the sidewalk to these fancier restaurants – makes sense, and you certainly would not want to wear your nice shoes / dress / pants on the wet floor of a raw fish market.
On the way back, this gentleman was selling fish poles – loooonngg fish poles. I didn’t ask, but they were probably close to 6-7 meters (20-23 feet) long.
Come to Jagalchi Fish Market for the sights, the sounds, and the smells. Bring your camera to capture the first, and use your memory for the second and third. There is no ‘souvenir’ shop in the touristy sense, so let your pictures and memories be your souvenir as opposed to some cheap plastic thing
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