You can smell Hairtail Alley before you see it; The aroma of spicy chili flakes fill the air.
When I was in Seoul, I sort of happened upon these wonderful culinary backstreets by chance. But after trying this delicious Korean dish, it has become one of my personal favorites.
In this blog post I’ll tell you all the details.
Here’s the story:
One day on my trip to Seoul, I met up with a longtime friend of mine, and we ate at a restaurant that served Korean oxtail soup.
The restaurant, known as Jinjujip (진주집) is located in the back alley streets of Seoul’s wonderful Namdaemun Market. We navigated our way to the restaurant and had an excellent bowl of oxtail soup.
It was very good, and I enjoyed the restaurant, but for 21,000 Won ($17.62), it was very expensive.
I came out of the restaurant and I could smell the aroma of something spicy and sour.
And then I spotted the packed out restaurants serving some kind of blood red stew, bubbling over on the stoves, and filling the alley with incredible aromas.
I didn’t have time to stop and eat it right then and there, but I knew I needed to come back…
The next day, which happened to be our final day of this trip to Seoul, before we caught a train to Jeonju, I persuaded my wife and her sisters to go back to Namdaemun Market to eat at Hairtail Alley.
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I navigated my way through Namdaemun Market and into the Hairtail Alley.
Just by chance, it happened to be a Sunday, and unfortunately after walking around, I noticed that many of the restaurants in the back alley were closed.
However, I could still smell the aroma of the chili and I knew a couple restaurants had to be open. Alas, I found a restaurant, it was busy with locals, and the Aunty kindly welcomed us in.
Note: Huirak Sikdang (희락식당) is one of the most famous restaurants in the Hairtail Alley, but it was closed and this restaurant I went to was fantastic, I would recommend it.
What is Hairtail?
Known officially as a largehead hairtail, or also as a beltfish, it’s a type of fish that’s very shiny and silver on the outside and looks kind of like a belt. It’s slender, narrow, and flat.
In Korean food, you’ll find it prepared a number of different ways including grilled, fried, and braised in spicy chili stew, which is the dish that Hairtail Alley is most well known for.
The menu was luckily written in English, and I ordered the dish that just about everyone else eating at the restaurant had ordered: galchi jorim (갈치조림), braised hairtail fish stew.
Like so many Korean dishes, it came to my table bubbling hot, right off the stove.
From the color and the aroma, I could tell it was going to be a dish I loved.
The braised hairtail stew came with a couple of typical banchan side dishes including napa cabbage kimchi, bean sprout kimchi, and some kind of radish kimchi.
My wife and her sisters also ordered bowls of bibimbap, but I stuck with my galchi jorim (갈치조림).
My set meal also came with ttukbaegi gyeranjjim, Korean steamed egg in an earthenware pot, which is a seriously great addition to any meal in Korea.
Just as a tip before we get into the hairtail stew: eating bites of egg with some of the chili braised sauce from the stew and rice, was outrageously good.
One more thing before digging into the hairtail fish stew. I was also served a dish of deep fried hairtail, which I think came complementary? I’m honestly not totally sure, but the Aunty brought it over to our table, and I wasn’t about to complain.
The fish was marvelous, crispy on the outside, and oily delicious on the inside. Somewhat like an eel, but not as buttery.
Galchi jorim (갈치조림)
Galchi jorim (갈치조림) is the Korean spicy braised hairtail fish stew.
The dish included a lot of chili flakes, and also in the mix were slices of daikon radish (which had soaked up all the wonderful flavor of the broth), pieces of hairtail fish, and leeks.
The fish itself was excellent. You do have to be careful of the bones, but the meat was soft yet not mushy, and with a perfect oiliness, all wrapped up in the chili laden stew.
Also, those slices of daikon in the mix were incredible, they just sort of dissolved on my tongue.
I’m drooling a little as I write this.
If I could choose just one Korean dish to eat right now, I think I’d have a bowl of galchi jorim (갈치조림).
At the front of the alley, parallel to the main Namdaemun Market lanes, is where you’ll find the Hairtail Alleys. There is a signboard clearly marking it, but if you don’t look up, you’ll never see it.
There are a lot delicious food alleys in Seoul, and along with the grilled fish street in Dongdaemun, Hairtail Alley at Namdaemun Market is an absolute must visit destination for food lovers in Seoul (especially for spicy food lovers).
Having been my first time to eat galchi jorim (갈치조림), I can without a doubt say that it has become one of my all time favorite Korean dishes.
Also, check out: Seoul Travel Guide for Food Lovers
Hairtail Fish Alley, Namdaemun Market
Open hours: Every restaurant has their own hours, but if you go for lunch on any day (Sunday is probably the quietest) you’ll find hairtail restaurants open and bustling.
Address: Namedaemun Market, Seoul
Prices: My braised hairtail set cost 7,000 Won ($6.10)
How to get there: Hairtail Fish Alley is located right within Seoul’s Namdaemun Market. You can get there by taking the Metro to Hoeyeon Station, follow the signs for Namdaemun Market. Once there, walk over to the western side and down Namdaemunsijang 2 ga-gil. Then head into the alley. You can check out my map here.