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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan.

Jagalchi Fish Market Busan.

February 2015. While on the face of it Busan might seem like an unashamedly modern city, there are plenty of opportunities to tap into its roots. One such experience is the weird and wonderful Jagalchi Fish Market in the commercial district of Nampo-dong. Fittingly located on the edge of Busan Harbour, this is the biggest fish market in South Korea!

fish market Busan.

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan.

Every morning, in the hour before dawn, a fleet of fishing boats arrive at the harbour with their nightly hauls. The majority of it ends up at Jagalchi, where market vendors immediately begin cleaning and preparing everything for another day of trading. 

Jagalchi Fish Market.

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan.

When I arrived on a chilly, grey February morning, Jagalchi was already in full swing. The first thing I realised is that the market is split into two sections. The indoor part is a gargantuan, multi-story affair, home to countless stalls and restaurants. There’s also a cooking school in there! It was incredibly busy inside and, if truth be told, I found the pungent, crisscrossing aromas too much to deal with.

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan.

Turban shell Jagalchi Fish Market.

Busan style Turban Shells.

Hence I decided to stick to the outdoor area, where hundreds of vendors sit packed into a dozen or so narrow streets. There is so much fish here it’ll make your head spin, from cod, shrimps, eels and turban shells, to lobster, crabs, clams, octopus and swordfish.  

For the most part, I can take or leave seafood. Thus for me the joy of my visit was all about people watching. Happily, the market offers a fascinating insight into local life. Take the stall owners themselves, for example, a collection of no-nonsense, curly haired women well practiced in the art of scowling. 

Local vendor Jagalchi Fish Market.

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan.

Apparently, the women here are both highly respected and feared by the people of Busan. Especially their husbands, many of which are the very fishermen who bring in the day’s goods. The ladies are nicknamed Jagalchi Ajumma, which roughly translates as “married fish market woman”.

While not exactly warm and cuddly, I liked how these women ignored curious foreigners like myself. In fact, there was no attempt to sell me anything and they didn’t object to my photo taking. I’ll put that down as two big wins.

Jagalchi Fish Market South Korea.

A tiny Jagalchi restaurant.

What To See & Do, Busan.

In addition to the many stalls, some of the shacks here are tiny, single table restaurants. In most cases there’s barely room for three or four people to squeeze in. Nevertheless, I managed to fit myself into a free spot for a bowl of this lady’s tangy cod ball soup. It came with a small plate of chopped vegetables doused in sweet chilli sauce. I can’t help but wonder what’s happened to these restaurants since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Traditional Korean music Busan South Korea.

Pungmul performance at Jagalchi Fish Market.

I was deep in the heart of the market when, suddenly, everyone’s ears pricked up at the sound of thumping drums and clattering gongs. Following the beat, I soon came across this group of musicians performing a traditional form of music called Pungmul. Spot the guy who REALLY wishes he were somewhere else. 

Rooted in traditional farming culture, Pungmul comes in a variety of guises, with drumming as the main focus. That day there was no singing at all, just a booming, rhythmic drum beat quite unlike anything I’d heard before.

Pungmul.

Pungmullori traditional Korean drumming.

Playing the Janggu.

The drums themselves are amazing objects called janggu. Players generally strike the double headed hourglass shaped drums on both sides with wooden sticks. A leather strap, worn over the shoulder, holds the drum in place.

Jagalchi Fish Market.

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan.

The drumming certainly came as a pleasant surprise. Even some of the ladies seemed cheered up by it, with much laughing and clapping going on among the stalls.

Jagalchi Fish Market opens its doors seven days a week from 08:00-22:00 and is free to enter. For an alternative view, check out this interesting article by Daily Travel Pill.

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For more on this cool city, have a leaf through my other reports on Busan.  

Like these? Then check out my various articles from around South Korea.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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11 Comments

  • Just_Me :)

    Cool! 🙂

    January 30, 2018 - 10:17 am Reply
  • Inga

    Great report ! Last year I visited that market, too. After two weeks in South Korea I must admit I was getting a bit sick of fish tanks with fish you can choose and then have cooked 😉.

    October 7, 2020 - 1:56 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha I hear ya. As I say in the article, fish has never been my thing anyway. But what a fascinating little place. Thanks for reading.

      October 7, 2020 - 1:58 pm Reply
  • Jyothi

    Nice clicks and very informative! Thanks!

    October 7, 2020 - 3:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for reading!

      October 7, 2020 - 3:50 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Love food markets especially if it has a cooking school. So you didn’t sample anything?

    October 7, 2020 - 11:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Memo, I think you missed the part where I tried some fish ball soup! It was pretty good and warming on a chilly February morning.

      October 7, 2020 - 11:05 pm Reply
      • Memo

        You’re correct. I had forgotten. But then I was thinking more along the lines of a swordfish steak or some fresh eel sushi.

        October 8, 2020 - 5:01 am
  • Rebecca

    Love the vibrancy of the fish market. I also like the plethora of food and produce that one can get at these open-air markets and just to feel the atmosphere of it all. Thanks for sharing!

    October 8, 2020 - 5:12 am Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    I visited this fish market on a night tour years ago. You capture the essence of the place beautifully. I loved the soju bars and fish tanks where customers choose their own anju.

    October 10, 2020 - 8:20 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your kind words. I imagine a night tour would’ve been a whole other experience. Thanks for taking the time to leave a message.

      October 10, 2020 - 8:33 pm Reply

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