One of the most overwhelming moments on this entire study abroad trip has to be when I was buying seafood in Busan. My friend Val had gotten a recommendation from another friend for a restaurant that allows you to choose your seafood directly from the tank and will prepare it for you fresh at a restaurant in the same venue! This was exciting for me and my friends; it was also a great opportunity to try live octopus! It’s a popular dish that is really just a cut-up octopus that is still wiggling around. I guess we didn’t expect it to be such an interesting experience due to our collective lack of Korean speaking skills.
So we had unsuspectingly entered the market/restaurant and in that moment it had really felt like all of the eyes of the fish-selling ahjummas (aunties) zoomed in on us. We were a group of foreigners which helps with grabbing attention, but we were also quite literally the only people there, so we were immediately bombarded with lots of compliments. We were being called out for from all directions and it was a little overwhelming. I think for me particularly it was very overwhelming because a lot of the calling out was directed at me as I was the only visibly Asian person among the group so I guess I looked like I could understand and bargain for some fish. Although I could understand the ladies there my speaking skills are not at all up to par with my comprehension skills, so we were really struggling to get a small amount of fish for a reasonable price. Some of the highlights of that 20 minute experience included: one lady claiming that I could speak Korean but was pretending that I couldn’t, one seller becoming visibly angry that we did not want to buy the largest fish she had there, same woman nearly beheading the same fish before we stopped her, and the same woman grabbing a small octopus and thrusting it towards us. Eventually, two Korean women passing by helped us communicate with the women as we were very obviously struggling to come to a conclusion with the sellers (they were trying to sell us too much fish or fish that was too expensive) and we were finally able to sit down and consume some fresh seafood for less than 50 USD. Looking back at it, it was a very funny experience and I don’t regret going there for a meal. I think it’s a culture shock that’s cool to experience!
The small octopus turned out to be very good! It was kind of fascinating to see it wriggling about on the plate, but once it’s in your mouth you just have to chew aggressively and the deed is done! The fish also turned out to be good, but I think what I really walked away with was a great experience buying fish from the ladies in the fish market.