Facing my Fears: Jagalchi Fish Market

Few things scare me more than fish. What better way to attempt to overcome my debilitating fear than by strolling around Korea’s largest seafood market?

I have been afraid of most sea creatures for as long as I can remember (let me clarify: aquariums/fish tanks are okay – it is only when there is the possibility of contact that I begin to hyperventilate). My hilarious fish-obsessed mom would devise ways to prank/torture me, as she knew my ultimate weakness. One time she chased me around a store with a dead, limp eel. Another time she purposefully clogged the sink with a huge fish head and asked me to help her unclog it. I should have suspected foul play since she was off to the side with an evil gleam in her eyes and a smirk on her face, but I naively gave her the benefit of the doubt. My mom also placed a fish skeleton in my sketchbook. I can only respect her and I hope you do as well. My family members and I always appreciate well-delivered torture schemes.

After visiting the Gamcheon Culture Village, Brent, Monica, and I stopped by Jagalchi Market. You can reach the market by getting off at the Jagalchi metro stop on line 1 (orange). As we approached the market, I began to panic, but tried to pull it together. The following terrible pictures are the result of poor lighting and fear of running into a flailing fish tail.

The first things that greeted me were monkfish with their innards proudly displayed. Monkfish still haunt my dreams from my experience in Split, Croatia. Each stall generally sold one sea creature in particular – one would have strictly octopi, whereas another would have only stingrays. Speaking of stingrays, part of me wants to try fermented stingray (hongeo). If you have tried it, let me know. If you follow the Korean Englishman (Josh and Ollie) and Eat Your Kimchi (Simon and Martina), then you might be familiar with their experience eating it.

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As we strolled by a grilled fish booth, a lady motioned for me to try the fish. I politely declined, but she quickly questioned why. After the exchange, Brent taught me how to say “I am not hungry” in Korean. We figured it would be easier for everyone if I just threw out that lie. Another vendor called me and Monica beautiful, but we did not fall into his little trap. Salespeople who actively try to get me to buy something stress me out. My experience in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul will probably never be topped – I am 100% okay with that.

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My friends and I then made our way into the restaurant portion of the market. Here you can choose what you want to eat out of tanks and they cook it on the spot for you. I was both terrified and fascinated. I tried to remain calm and respectful, but a rogue fish caused me to temporarily lose my composure (he splashed water on me for Pete’s sake). The most perplexing sea creature that I saw were spoon worms (Urechis unicinctus), also known as “fat innkeeper worms” or, wait for it, “penis fish.” Google them. Anyway, the restaurant portion was really awesome. I definitely want to go back and eat there (I might need someone to hold my hand and bring smelling salts just in case).

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SIDEWAYS FISH I CAN’T.

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UPSIDE DOWN FISH I CAN’T.

After leaving the fresh fish part of the market, we strolled by the dried goods section. My little sister once bit the bodies off of several anchovies and placed the heads around my dinner plate. Again, more respect for my family members. Another food item that I want to try is dried squid. I do not expect to fall head over heels in love, but I am willing to give it a shot. Andrew Zimmern, I am trying to make you proud!

I did not really overcome my fears at the market (in fact I think I just solidified them further), but I would recommend for you to go visit it. Jagalchi Market is located right beside Nampo Port, so you are guaranteed great seafood!

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