Offering the best wake-up call in Jeddah, the bustling Central Fish Market comes to life at daybreak, selling row upon row of colorful produce fresh from the sea. As the sun rises over the coast, watch fishermen offload their hauls onto over 100 stalls, as buyers jostle to bid on the widest selection of fish in Saudi Arabia.
Visitors looking to try this noisy, immersive experience will enjoy the full-service offering that sees fish cleaned, prepped and cooked just hours after being caught. But the good-natured din and vibrant array of fresh catches – not to mention the port’s fascinating role in Jeddah’s history – makes the market a photogenic feast even if you’re not eating.
The port has been the beating heart of Jeddah for centuries, playing an integral role in the city’s formation and development. As a global trading hub and a welcoming passage for pilgrims heading to the holy cities of Makkah and Medina, its prime location has helped the city to thrive.
Even today, it remains the Middle East’s second-largest and second busiest trading seaport. And though the tankers that frequent Jeddah’s shores these days are greatly changed from the wooden dhows of eras past, the azure blue walls of the fish market have lost none of their character.
Bagging a bargain
With many vendors displaying English-language labels, it’s a good idea to browse from stall-to-stall and get accustomed to the colorful variety of seafood on offer.
From local favourites including the red grouper ('najil’) and the Napoleon wrasse (‘tarabani’), to seabass, tuna, calamari, and mountains of crab and lobster, you’ll not be short of choice. Egyptian parrotfish and Omani sardines are among the catches from elsewhere in the region, but if you’d prefer to try only local fare then look for those labelled ‘baladi’.
Haggle your price with the vendor – usually given by the kilo – take your newly-bought goods and follow signs for the “peel section”, found behind the market towards the water’s edge. It’s likely others will be headed the same way, carrying bags of shellfish or lugging a hefty fish in each hand, ready to transfer the task of cleaning, gutting and filleting over to an army of willing workers.
Your fish will be weighed and priced before you enter the busy cleaning arena to wait in line. Once your shrimps are swiftly peeled or your salmon expertly filleted, you’re only moments away from tucking in.
Cooked to order
The fish market’s on-site restaurant means you can enjoy your new catch as you prefer, with take away and eat-in options. Simply head in and advise how you’d like it cooked (grilled or fried) and choose from sides that include salad, hummus and baba ghanoush.
If attending early in the morning, the restaurant can store your fish until you return for lunch.
Also at the market
The number of on-site fishing shops make the market a hub for amateur anglers, with fishing rods, tackle and other equipment available for anyone inspired to have a go themselves. Coffee and snack stalls are dotted outside the main market area, while parking is available on-site along with an ATM.
Although early mornings are the most popular time to visit, the fish market is open all day, every day, from 5am to 9pm. For the most frenzied activity, turn up on Friday mornings when the weekend begins with a cacophonous display of Jeddah’s passion for seafood.