So…now comes the time of the main attraction…the whole purpose of our trip to South Korea.
Prior to the trip we had researched just where would be a good place to have this sannakji: fresh raw octopus, the tentacles of which are served still squirming on the plate. It turns out, a lot of restaurants that serve sashimi will serve it also, but you have to ask if they have the fresh kind.
Fresh huh….aside from fishing it out of the sea yourself, the freshest seafood you can get it probably if you can pick it out of a tank, then immediately serve it up…
That’s it. We’re heading to Noryangjin Fish Market (sometimes called Noryanjin), where you pick your kill, then pick a restaurant to have them killed.
This massive wet market is all seafood. It’s 24 hours and is just a 20 minute train ride from Myeongdong. There were hawkers at each stall yelling at you to buy from them. I think they know you’re here for live octopus, as that’s what they point you to right from the beginning.
Oh ya: most of them speak Mandarin.
There’s just so much to see. Massive forearm-sized prawns, HUGE scallops on a rope, a mini shark head, pufferfish… At a few tanks I swear I saw some fish which I’ve only known to be kept as pets in saltwater tanks. There’s also alien looking worms that I only know to be 沙蟲 in Chinese. I asked how they are supposed to be served…the answer was as sashimi. We silently said no to that.
Lots and lots of stalls offer disembodied octopus of all sizes. Some tentacles were as long as my body…I wonder how those are eaten too. There was one stall that ONLY did rays (above middle right). It seemed like that’s eaten as sashimi also. All the stalls have plates of sashimi precut or has someone in the midst of preparing a plate. When we were purchasing, next stall over kept showing us a plate of salmon sashimi. That I think we’ll save for Vancouver.
There’s also blue crabs. Lots of them. They are usually displayed with a piece of the shell removed to show you the amount of roe they have. I assume these are for you to purchase home to make your own soy-marinated crab.
There’s also live sea cucumber, live abalone, sea acorn, sea pineapple…my god it’s endless. However we found that only the first row of stalls are actively hawking. The stalls in the back tend to ignore you when you walk by…I think those stalls only cater to Koreans and and sense that you are not one of them.
Anywhoo we went back to a stall that we walked by. The lady seemed the friendliest. You can of course bargain here, but we were a bit shy to. The only bargaining I did was instead of 2 baby octopuses for 5,000W, we got 3. We also tried 4 sea pineapple, which are the bright red things you see in some of the pictures above. We asked how to eat this, the answer was once again, sashimi. 4 because we were told that each one only yields very little edible.
Other things we got were one snow crab (yep, between the two of us girls) and one HUMONGOUS mussel which they called a scallop.
After we paid, she told us to hold the crab and take a picture with her and the stall name. It took us two tries because in the first one we didn’t know her intention. Which was for us to advertise for her.
We also asked her which restaurant was good for the food prep. She took us upstairs to this place. Again they have someone that speaks Mandarin here.
It honestly just looks like a cafeteria, with the table already set but covered with more plastic table cloths.
After we were seated, we were then asked how we wanted our food prepared. I of course asked for suggestions. At first we wanted the mussel/scallop as sashimi as it was fresh. But the restaurant lady told us that it would be better either stirfried or barbequed, so we chose the latter.
The crab was just steamed, and the sea pineapple and octopus were as sashimi.
First let me talk about the sea pineapple. I would not order it again. It was very very bitter but with an extremely sweet after taste. It was very interesting. A quick google search tells us that this it typically only served in Japan and Korea, and usually eaten when drinking beer.
I couldn’t take the bitterness so I let Fannypack devour the rest of it. She was a good sport.
The giant mussel was bigger than a human hand. I think they call this a scallop though because you eat the white, chewy meaty muscly part..you know, the part that usually stays behind when you eat regular mussels.
This was bbq’d on the shell and then sliced thin. It had enough saltiness that we didn’t have to add anything. It definitely tasted of the sea, and was an interesting and unique choice. No regrets here.
The snow crab was 32,000W. It was so succulent and sweet and it was just super satisfying to just sit there and devour leg after leg of luscious crab meat. Even a man at the table next to us looked at us in awe as he sees these two girls annihilate a table of seafood. Later on another man comes to hit on Fannypack 😉
Now let’s get to the main event.
The plate came of wriggling and writhing tentacles. I can only describe them as earthworm like. It came with a dish of sesame oil/salt mixture, which is the only condiment to give any taste to the sannakji.
Once it’s in front of me I wasn’t scared anymore…more so excited. I took a small piece to start, gave it a whirl in the oil, and put it in my mouth.
I did not immediately chew the hell out of it. I wanted to feel its suckers latching on, and latch on they did, but not as strongly as I had expected. Could be because these were only baby suckers.
I went for bigger and longer tentacles each time, and each time I felt bigger suckers. The oil definitely helped prevent them from causing trouble, and we were both very mindful to chew completely before swallowing. There are apparently several deaths per year attributed to sannakji due to improper chewing, as the suckers can latch onto your throat on the way down, causing you to choke. Hitman wanted to add that sannakji is also used as an apparent natural aphrodisiac by Korean men and is given to fighting bulls to rev them up. I guess it only works for men though since we didn’t feel anything other than full after.
I must say I actually quite enjoyed this dish. It was fresh. It really didn’t taste of anything if you don’t use the oil/salt condiment. Texture-wise it was for sure quite rubbery. I actually tried a non-tentacle head part and it was so rubbery I couldn’t break it apart. I stayed with the tentacles afterwards.
It was an exciting and unique experience here at Noryangjin Fish Market. It was one of our most satisfying lunches and we felt like we were balling, having seafood for lunch. But in total is was only $32CAD per person…$50 total for the food, and $14 for prep.
If I come back to Seoul, I would definitely take my companion here.
Take the 1-line train from most train stations. There’s only one stop at Noryangjin and the fish market is right there.