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Published: February 22nd 2013
A freezing cold, iced up river provided the perfect backdrop for a day spent perusing the Jung Ang Market in Gangneung. Located in the middle of town, this market would be more aptly entitled The Fish Market for all the varying degrees of fish for sale. Coming in all shapes and sizes, there were big fish, small fish, blue fish, red fish, and fish violently cut in half. The one thing they had in common? All the fish had salty hooks thrust through their salty mouths and lips.
Koreans come here to shop, while foreigners (and probably out-of-towners too) come here to glimpse, stare and dare I say sample the wide variety of fish / meat / seafood on display at Jung Ang bazaar.
The first things you see in abundance are the yellow and purple tinged stingrays hanging lifelessly from red steel poles. The rays are hung up with hooks through their top lips - giving you a great view of their jagged teeth. You will see these rays hung up on garage doors, shop windows, alleyways and even beside clothing shops. There is no mercy for the stingray at Jung Ang Market.
Further on, fish of all colours, shapes and sizes adorn every stall, some hanging from the signs, others laying the ground. Fish heads, bits of something or other, and parts of the fish I couldn’t name, sit their waiting for someone to buy them. Their eyes are all watery and bloodshot - having only been killed a few hours ago. Old Korean women work at the stalls, wearing bloodied gum boots and wielding spectacularly sharp knives. You shout what you want, and they cut the bloody thing up in half the time it took you to order.
Korean men and women working at the market also walk through the stalls selling their produce. They pull their fish along in little wheelbarrows behind them…yelling out fish names in Korean and seeing if anyone bites to buy them.
Further down the alleyway, more animals are on display. There are pig’s heads – swollen, pink and ripe for the picking. There are chickens with their legs flaying out, there’s vegetables of all descriptions. Some vegetables look gigantic, and carrots and cucumber are far bigger than what you would find in the supermarket. There’s also fruit
galore –crispy and tangy apples, bright yellow banana bunches, succulent mandarins, pears and tomatoes by the bucket load.
Venture a few minutes away from ‘fish city’ and you will find the dried variety. Prawns, anchovies, squid, and tiny fish all dried and stuffed into big plastic bags.
You will smell them before you see them, and there are big wooden scoopers in the bags to help you grab them out. Beside this stall, there are spices and pickles a plenty. There’s boiling hot chili pepper, the colour of ruby red and looking hot as hell. There are also pickles, Korea’s favourite side dish Kimchi, radish, marinated crab and perhaps most daunting big yellow sacks of dried red chilies. These would not be for the fainted hearted!
Once you’re feeling a little peckish, there is plenty to stop and snack on. From the famous Korean snack Odang which is fish cake served in a delicious steamy hot fishy broth, or there’s fried chicken, rice cakes, sweet potatoes, buttery fried potatoes, corn, smoked eggs and red bean fried balls which make for the perfect sticky, chewy and sweet dessert.
Of course, no
Korean market experience would be complete without the mention of Soju – Korean’s most infamous (dare I say famous) alcoholic drink. Think the Japanese equivalent of Sake, but times that by 10 and add the feeling of how tequila feels when it crawls down your throat. This is a staple in Korea, and it’s not unusual to see business men indulging in this liquor at all hours of the night, seven days a week. I was amused to find it here being sold in baskets containing corn, rice and barley, just casually sitting their alongside the roadside stalls.
The afternoon went by quickly, and it was plain to see this is a smooth operation run by the Korean locals. Despite the chilly weather, things were bustling away at the market. Even sleeping store-owners fitted into the market’s atmosphere. At times I was stuffed full of yummy Korean food, other times I found myself staring at a pig’s head trying to comprehend that was actually what I was looking at! But that’s the beauty of Jung Ang Market, it’s an experience no matter what, and I’m pretty sure the lovely, old Korean women who spend their days gutting
fish no bigger than your middle finger, meticulously one by one, would be very happy to see you.
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