Savour the Best Cutlass Fish Stew at Namdaemun Market
March 15, 2017
Namdaemun Market, the nation’s oldest continuous market, which shares Seoul’s 600-year history, is one of the most popular traditional markets in Korea. A universal provider of clothing, fruits and vegetables, food, and general merchandise, Namdaemun also houses an imported goods market that carries items that are hard to find elsewhere.
Before you get lost exploring Namdaemun Market, here’s a map to ease your navigation. You can also obtain a physical copy from Namdaemun’s Tourist Information Centre at the main street of this market. I’ve marked the location with a blue star.
Namdaemun Market spans a huge area. My advice is to first narrow down the things that interest you, before you start browsing rows and rows of shops. This helps save time, as it’s almost impossible to finish covering every single lane.
Being a glutton, what I enjoyed most at Namdaemun Market is Galchi Jorim (braised cutlass fish or also known as cutlass fish stew) – a famous dish in Jeju Island. There’s a specific alley, lined with many shops offering this piping hot dish. From Hoehyeon Station (Line 4), take Exit 5. Turn right out of the exit and continue onto the main road. Turn left after the 3rd intersection and you will see colourful signs for the alleyway above the entrances. It’s hard to miss, as the aroma of spices used to cook cutlass fish stew lingers in the air, whetting my appetite.
The ajummas prepare cutlass fish stew over an open fire outside the restaurant, so be very careful when walking through the alley while deciding which restaurant to dine at. There are many restaurants, and you’ll have to control your temper as most of these restaurant workers will try convincing you to go inside (which can be a tad annoying if they start tugging at your sleeves). There are two reputable restaurants I recommend – one that was featured in the Running Man variety show, and another that has lots of endorsements by MBC, KBS, and SBS TV channels plastered around its signboard.
My boyfriend and I decided on the latter, as it has been around for over 50 years. We watched the ajumma cook cutlass fish in a brass bowl (yangpun naembi), and found out that this bowl is very thin as compared to others, making it easy to transfer heat to the food. In the past, Galchi Jorim was made with radish and soy sauce, but it is now seasoned with soy sauce, red pepper flakes and gochujang sauce, hence its bright red colour, and fiery hot taste.
WARNING: Cutlass fish has a lot of tiny bones! It was such a hassle to savour it. However, the fresh, tender meat, makes our tedious picking of the bones out so worth it. The side dishes served are also very appetizing. Personally, I like the spicy pickled radish, as well as, the crispy little bits of anchovies. If you find the cutlass fish stew too spicy, have some steamed egg to counter it. It is smooth, silky, and melts in your mouth! Our set meal for 2 persons cost 20,000krw. It was so worth it, especially when we also got to seek refuge at the restaurant, from the freezing temperatures during winter.
We also came across an alley that sells Kalguksu (noodle soup) but were too full to stomach it. You might want to give it a try, since there have been raving reviews. It’s nice to spend around 2 to 3 hours wandering around Namdaemun Market, but my favourite traditional market in Seoul is still Gwangjang Market.
Namdaemun Market Details
Address: 21 Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
Nearest Train Station: Hoehyeon Station (Line 4) Exits 5 and 6
Opening Hours: 10am to 7pm but some stores might have different hours, and many are closed on Sundays