Snag the freshest catch at Noryangjin fish market
Author CINDY-LOU DALE
BETWEEN THE HOURS of 1 and 6:30 a.m., Seoul’s Noryangjin fish market turns into a 65,000-square-foot auction floor where restaurants and retailers bid on the day’s catch before the start of business. Fish are filleted in seconds. Octopuses suck at fishmongers’ hands. Pink slabs of skate fly through the air. And then, as abruptly as it started, the chaos ebbs and Noryangjin turns into a slightly less hectic place for visitors to snap up the freshest fish, hairy crabs, mollusks and octopuses—many of them still alive upon purchase—available in Seoul.
Make your selection, and it will be swiftly killed and cleaned. Then it can be carried upstairs to the dozen or so restaurants that will cook it or serve it as sashimi with sides like fresh perilla leaves, red pepper sauce, ssamjang (soybean paste with chili and sesame oil) and simple slices of green pepper and garlic. The restaurant will also turn the leftovers into a spicy broth for a standard flat rate—one that’s likely cheaper than what you’d pay at an off-site restaurant (which, naturally, also got its fish at Noryangjin).
The Korean distilled alcohol soju, made from grain or sweet potatoes, comes with a long list of traditions that you’d do well to keep in mind while drinking. It also can reach 45 percent alcohol, or 90 proof.
So if you can manage to stay sober enough to remember your manners, here are a few tips for downing it correctly.
Rule #1. Do not fill your own glass. Just sit back and someone else at your table will fill it for you (but not unless your glass is completely empty).
Rule #2. Use two hands to offer and accept soju, to demonstrate respect. When receiving a drink, you should rest the glass in your left palm and hold it with your right hand, perhaps bowing your head slightly to indicate additional respect to the server.
Rule #3. To pour a drink for a friend, hold the bottle in your right hand, with your left hand touching your right forearm or elbow as if holding back an invisible sleeve. This custom dates back to when the long sleeves of the traditional Korean hanbok might accidentally touch the table.
Rule #4. If you hear your drinking companions say “gun bae“—”one shot”— when clinking glasses together, know that it’s a challenge for everyone to down their soju in a single gulp. Good luck! —C.D.