Jagalchi Market in Busan is famous for it’s hustle and bustle. It’s near Korea’s largest fish market and is packed full of shops and restaurants specializing in sea food. You can smell the ocean and there is just a fence between you and the fishing harbor. Shops and restaurants crowd the street along the harbor, shouting for business, announcing the catch and cost of the day. Cooking food on outdoor barbecues to persuade passer-by to stop in for a delicious meal.
Like any fish market the usual fare is readily available crab, squid, octopus, clams, mussels and snapper. Of course the unusual also abounds in the sea penis, sea urchin, sea cucumbers, eels and turtle.
After soaking in the sunlight and wandering through the market for several minutes. I decided to order some lunch. I knew I wanted to try something new. I just wasn’t quite sure what. I finally settled on a friendly looking woman who was selling fried fish and eel.
I walked up to the ajumma selling fish, pointed to a fish swimming lazily in it’s tank and said, “yogi hangae juseyo.” She checked that I wanted just one fish and that I was indeed eating along. Then she reached in, caught a fish, placed it on her cutting board and smoothly and swiftly beheaded the fish.
I stared open mouthed at her and the flopping body of the fish. She matter-of-factly finished filleting the fish. Then noticed my stares and patiently gestured at me to sit in the restaurant behind her.
The restaurant was a small rectangle of a room packed with tables on platforms so shoes could come off as everyone got comfortable. The kitchen was just a few shelves of dishes and food, a sink and a fridge. Two frazzled looking older woman rushed about trying to keep everyone happy as the small space filled with vacationers and fishermen.
Soon my battered and fried fish came to sit near me. After far too much waiting and a nice chat with a couple of foreigners who were equally impressed by the fish-ness of Jagalchi, my banchan and bap were finally placed before me.
Mastering the art of chopsticks has included several crash courses on fish eating. Those tiny bones are tough to navigate with knitting needles. However I did my best and managed to feed myself to stuffed.
The food was mediocre overall, but for an afternoon in the sunlight on a warm winter’s day and a live fish killing it felt like it was worth the 8,000 won.