Sep 20

Jagalchi Fish Market

by in Books, Food, Reviews, Travel



Sometimes the best part about living in Korea and being centrally located in Daejeon is the easy freedom and simplicity of booking a train ticket to quickly take you someplace new or different. It is much like I imagine living in Europe somewhere and having that mythical and romantic-sounding creation, the “Eurail Pass.”

There is not necessarily a danger in having a preconceived notion about how such a thing would work or how it would make you feel to travel by rail throughout Europe, but I am learning that it is positive and healthy to have goals and ambitions. Having expectations, however, with regards to traveling, reading, or just plain living, is the wrong way to experience life.

Having again run out of books and somewhat bored with too many recent trips to Seoul, I decided it had been too long since I had returned to one of my favorite parts of South Korea, the magical port city of Busan. Not only is it home to beautiful beaches and a great second-hand bookstore (Fully Booked), it also has an amazing fish market that I have strangely failed to visit. Cheymus and Olivia agreed to look in on foster kitty, Bean, and I found a terrific guesthouse near (literally on top of) Jagalchi Fish Market, Korea’s largest seafood market.

A rare KTX derailment in Daegu pushed my trip back by a week and it was certainly strange to see delayed arrival times on the big board at Daejeon Station for the first time. Perhaps this was an omen to postpone the trip, which I actually was happy to do. All of Korea was thrown into gridlock by the disruption to the normally punctual and efficient Korail system. Taking a bus was an option, but as I have previously mentioned, flexibility is the traveler’s best friend. It also underlines the expectations versus reality debate.Jagalchi Map

Jagalchi Fish Market, in the neighborhood of Nampo-dong in Jung-gu and Chungmu-dong, turns out to be an amazing feast for the senses, as well as the palate.  What’s even more amazing is that, when viewed on a map, the market seems to be located next to a piece land (Yeongdo-gu) that looks remarkably like a real fish!?  The outdoor vendors selling live, freshly caught, or frozen varieties, are all lined up in stalls that seem to go on forever, as are the adjoining restaurants with fish tanks and friendly “barkers” or “Jagalchi Ajummas,” ‘ajumma’ meaning middle-aged or married women, encouraging you to choose their offerings or step into their shops.

Not only is this a wonderful way to look into the past at a simpler time in Korea, it is essentially a giant free aquarium full of rare, unusual, and apparently edible bounties from the neighboring sea. It was only later that I learned that most of Korea is currently avoiding seafood due to increased fears of radioactive contamination stemming from the Japan tsunami, and subsequent nuclear plant meltdown at Fukushima.

Perhaps it was best that I didn’t know this in advance as it most certainly would have prevented me from enjoying two of the best fried fish meals I have ever had (sorry Cape Cod). It might also explain why some of the vendors were reluctant to appear in my photos or attempts to shoot an Instagram video of the non-stop action. As I have since learned, most are fearful of foreigners reporting negatively on the market (and their livelihood), despite a nationwide ban on seafood from Japan, which has met with repeated requests from Tokyo to lift the embargo.

What made the weekend stay even more enjoyable was a thoroughly wonderful stay at Terra Guest House. Terra, formerly Korea Guest House Jagalchi, is conveniently located directly above the indoor portion of the market in a newer building. Not only is it one of the biggest and most well appointed hostels I have stayed at here in Korea, it boasts one of the most beautiful views of the harbor and neighborhoods surrounding the market district. I booked a stay there the week before which was convenientlyt refunded due to the train accident, so I returned the following week with just a vague idea of its true proximity to the market. Using Google Maps once I arrived in the area, I was amazed to find it in the very same building I was strolling through. It was sort of like that scene in Aliens when Bill Paxton’s character is having trouble reading all the blips on his tracker.

Stunned and amazed at my good fortune, I went up  and checked-in after personally thanking the staff for their understanding about my previous reservation. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my favorite online reservation source,, does not typically offer refunds or reservation alterations, but I have found their customer service extremely helpful and responsive to assist with mix-ups and/or “acts of God,” like the train accident.  Furthermore, the staff at Terra also gave me a room at an even lower price for my troubles and was thoroughly kind and helpful for the duration of my stay.

Terra is also remarkably affordable despite its central location (just a few stops from Busan Station on the #1 Orange line) and premium amenities, including a complimentary breakfast (toast, coffee, juice, and cereal) and the rooftop view from the patio/deck that is a great way to take in the harbor any time of day or night. Someone will have to explain the whole “Continental Breakfast” thing to me sometime. What continent is it exactly that this breakfast originated? There is also a nice bathroom and separate huge shower area. The lounge is also big and comfortable with beer and coffee drinks available throughout the day (as well as a cute house kitty).  The whole place has free Wi-Fi and was not only relaxing, but also spotlessly clean and thoroughly modern. I cannot recommend this guesthouse enough and will look forward to staying there again on my next visit.

Now, about this matter of expectations versus reality…I guess I will save that for a separate post and let your mind wander a bit about it until then.

Busan Harbor from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

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