It was so rainy that day, but at least it was mostly a steady, manageable sprinkle. An umbrella would have been great. Instead of that, I had a light purple, quick-dry, button down shirt (my favorite for excursions), a pair of thin all-purpose black slacks, Chaco sandals, and hair pulled back so the raindrops could run directly into my eyes. Oh, and my big Motorolla cellphone sticking out of my back pocket. That indestructible device had a close encounter with saltwater a few months before coming to Busan, so I was hardly worried about the effects of a little rainwater.
Where are all the people? I wondered. There were no other foreigners anywhere in the neighborhood, at least that I could tell, but there weren’t many other people walking the streets either. Perhaps it was because of the rain, or the day of the week, or maybe it’s just busiest first thing in the morning like every other fish market in the world.
(Sure, this was summer 2020, but South Korea had masked up, implemented contact tracing and strict quarantine for arrivals, and been able to carry on most business as usual.)
It took a while to walk there from the guesthouse where I was staying at the base of Yongdusan Park and Busan tower – maybe somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes, if I remember correctly. Now, Tripadviser says it’s much closer, so perhaps making the trip in the rain made it seem longer than it really was!
I just strolled up and down the streets looking around me. Being slightly tall for this area of the world (I’m a 5 ft 8.5 in woman) the overhanging umbrellas caused me duck slightly a few times. Most of the workers were middle aged or older, and many of them were women wearing the famous East Asian grandma visors. Iconic.
Sure, it smelled a little fishy, but compared to the odiferous mounds of crushed dried seafood in Chinese supermarkets, this was fine. Lots of squids and little shellfish. Whole fish, flayed fish, big fish, small fish, live fish, dead fish, fish in water, fish on ice. Oh, and eels, and basically everything else too.
It was all quite photogenic if only I had an inkling of skill in that area. Someone with an eye for photography could have a field day.
Real question: Are these sea cucumbers in the picture below? Are they actually edible? Why are they selling them? I’ve never seen anything like them sold in any seafood section in any other market before. Definitely did a few double-takes that day.
The market consists of indoor and outdoor areas; on one side there are buildings behind the stalls. Here you can order fresh catch cooked to order! Speaking no Korean and having no one with me, I couldn’t order anything; I never saw a written menu, and if I did, I couldn’t read it. I did see some large dishes of pre-prepared food near the end of the street, but they looked too spicy for my taste.
Well, at least that was my excuse. Honestly I just didn’t know what a lot of it was, and didn’t like the idea of mystery stew. I couldn’t get into the beef knuckles, pig feet, and fish full of bones back in China, and I feared a repeat of that experience. Don’t do as I did; Korean food is famously good if you can handle a little spice.
Jagalchi is in the Nampo-dong area, a section of town which includes BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) square. It’s just a few minutes walk from the market and has plenty of restaurants for you to choose from if you didn’t manage to eat any of the open-air catch. I ended up trying a Thai place and an Indian place in that area before leaving town.
Jagalchi market opens at 8 am and stays open til 10 pm. It’s world famous as the largest fish market in Korea. I highly recommend going with someone who speaks Korean so you can get the full experience of ordering fresh seafood and eating it there. That’s not an experience you’re likely to get too often, unless you already live near the sea. If you’re in Busan, this is a fun excursion – rain or shine!