Visiting the local market is a great way to get the vibe of any city. You get to see what people are eating, how much they are spending, and how they treat each other. Based on my experience in Bujeon Market (부전시장), Busanites eat a lot of fish, for a damn good price, and the market is a place for business not chit chat.
I’ve visited markets in Italy, Spain, Japan, Turkey, and Morocco, as well as other markets in Korea, but Bujeon Market instantly took the place of best market ever in my mind. From a tourist’s point of view, it has everything you could possibly want as you clumsily stumble through another culture’s place of trade and gawk at the common place while trying not to be overly conspicuous.
Bujeon Market sells everything you could possibly want (and many things you probably don’t). They have stacks of fruits and vegetables piled into little red plastic baskets (you buy by-the-basket – trying to buy 4 apples won’t work). There is an enormous variety of fish – fish that’s still swimming around, fish that is hacked into pieces, and fish dried with a shocked expression similar to Munch’s famous paintings. Of course there is meat as well, but it hardly bears mention as its fascination pales in comparison to the buckets of octopus whose contents look like they might escape back to the sea from which they were pilfered. In terms of things you probably don’t want, there’s a wide selection of cheap lingerie and Ajumma-style (even cheaper) brilliantly-coloured hiking clothes.
There’s also an area with spices on par with the Grand Bazaar – you will know you have found it when your nose becomes overwhelmed and you involuntarily collapse from the olfactory assault. Additionally, there’s an adjacent section on the periphery that has ingredients for traditional medicine. To my eye, the ingredients resemble dried twigs and bark – I will try it out if someone can tell me what to do with it.
Besides the contents of the market, the determining factor in placing this as best market ever is that there are, literally, no other tourists. Bujeon market is a free-market area of no-frills, pragmatic trade – there’s no kitsch for tourists because there aren’t any. Instead, old ladies take up the breadth of the thoroughfare with their carts of watermelons (perhaps capturing the impulsive watermelon-buying market) and guys weaving through the crowd with boxes of goods strapped to the back of their mopeds.
Not to be missed!