SOULFUL FOOD… Tobias Harris and the food around him
January 12, 2011 3 Comments
Noryangjin Fish Market: A LUNCH TO REMEMBER
Now more than ever it is a big deal for the Wangsadihardja family to have a meal together. We grew up sharing at least breakfast and/or dinner together. It is a time for us to say our grace, share our dreams, and communicate about our activities during the day. Having dinner in front of the TV was never an option for me growing up. And to this day, it will never happen. Ever!
Being so far away from each other, my family regards our once in a blue moon dining experience as sacred. During our most recent family vacation to Seoul in September, we had a superb and unforgettable lunch at the Noryangjin Fish Market.
It was day 3 of our trip, I was jet-lagged and dead on my feet. My parents had no more energy after a seemingly endless walk throughout a palace the previous day. It was the day after Chuseok; Korea’s Thanksgiving Day. Nearly every eatery was closed, leaving us craving both food and our sacred dining moment.
Eureka! My brother and sister in law had an idea: Noryangjin Fish Market, and they were sure the place was open for biz. Their point of view was: SECOND THANKSGIVING DAY. Families can only enjoy each other so much during Thanksgiving, so they tend to seek out other venues for sharing chow and togetherness. Based on what we know from virtually every Korean soap opera (there are many, many of them!), Korean families cherish breaking bread together. This place is a true market, so we thought it would be open – at least for shopping. Smart thinking! I am quite familiar with this market from a Korean Drama series that I watched, and was excited about visiting!
We traveled by train and during the ride started seeing more signs of life, unlike the day before. But the Noryangjin train station was dead as a doornail, so we knew we were taking our chances. We were the only people that crossed a pedestrian bridge, we passed an empty parking lot and dark stairs. It was a ghost town.
The only promising thing was the smell of the sea, a fresh market smell. Voila! The stairs led us to a balcony with a view of an endless sea of fishmongers stretched from end to end of the market that was at least as long as a football field.
A vast array of edible sea creatures beckoned us: a cornucopia of fish, fresh abalone, octopus, crabs, and on and on. Some were so rare we could not identify them. All were alive and ready to be slaughtered…eh…packaged and consumed. Dilemma: there were no restaurants open to prepare the mouth-watering creatures. According to the travel book, the restaurants are operated from the balcony where we had been before. To our disappointment, all of them were closed. It was not looking good for us until we had an urge to tour the washroom area. Restrooms in this market are remarkably clean and sanitary. A nice lady greeted us, uttering something we could not understand in Korean. Choosing not to be seen as impolite, we just smiled and let her know in English that we don’t speak Korean.
Perhaps instinctively, she switched to Chinese. Oh happy day! MY MOM SPEAKS A SMATTERING OF CHINESE… Mom asked the nice lady if by some chance there might be an open restaurant nearby. Smiling, she managed to convey a message to my mom. She showed us a place that looked like it was closed, except for a single light bulb. The lady suggested we buy our fresh fish from the market, then bring it to this restaurant where they would prepare it; an interesting concept indeed.
We bought a pair of very exotic “hairy” crabs – a very rare delicacy, some live octopus and a flounder big enough for 5 people. Macabre as it seemed, the chef served us the freshest sashimi known to man in a flash. The lady, in Chinese, asked my Mom how we would like the fish prepared. Unsure, mom asked her to surprise us, and surprise us she did. The waitress brought us a sashimi dinner of thinly sliced flounder and chopped live octopus with tentacles that were still moving. My sister in law, ever so slightly grossed out, was not very fond of the preparation, so my mom asked the waitress to prepare it differently, and in 3 minutes, a scrumptious meal was brought to our table.
The steamed hairy crab was to die for! It is very sweet, firm, and tender at the same time, I think it was steamed in ocean water. The cooked octopus was very crunchy and tasty. The flounder sashimi was like none I’ve ever tried, it was so fresh and totally devoid of a “fishy” taste. It was so soft that it melted on our tongues. The dishes were accompanied by flounder bone soup that was very mild and flavorful.
This meal and the experience was one to remember. It created that cherished family moment we sought ,while satisfying our hunger at the same time. Narongji Fish Market – truly good to the last drop.