Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sannakji - Eating Live Octopus

When people think of 'strange' Korean delicacies, they often think of dog. Now, on the whole, dog is not that strange a thing to eat. I mean, we eat sheep, lamb, goats, baby cows, rabbits, alpacas, guinea pigs and plenty of other cute animals! Dog is meaty (especially in comparison with guinea pig), fairly lean and, unlike, say, bear, it's not that hard to kill. Sannakji (산낙지) - also known as Live Octopus - on the other hand? Definitely qualifies on my list of 'strange' foods. While it may not actually still be alive when it's fed to you in a nice light sesame oil dressing, it's only been very recently killed - and it's still very much squirming about!

I (finally) had the chance to enjoy this delicacy for myself when I stayed over with my friend Minjung's family in Seoul while on route to Beijing. And enjoy it I did! I thoroughly loved it. It's very tasty - ignore all those people who say otherwise! - even if you do have to chew the tentacles (which are also, incidentally, the wriggliest bits) extra hard to ensure that they don't suction to your throat on the way down.

I didn't realise that we would be having Sannakji and, so, didn't have my camera with me that night, but here is what you would have seen had I been able to take any photos:

Our octopus was actually a little more translucent than this. It was also served with the sesame on the side as a dip, and alongside a bed of leaves and some rice for rolling and wrapping samgyupsal-style. The remaining body (which wasn't nearly so twitchy) was also thinly sliced and mixed into a super-spicy delicious bibimbop (mixed rice salad).

Interestingly (if you are me at least) the technical term for the squirming of the tentacles is a 'cadaveric' or 'post-mortem spasm'. It results from continued electrical current in the nerve fibres which causes the muscles to keep twitching. This can be augmented or prolonged by putting the nerve endings in contact with ionic solutions (such as soy sauce or salted dressings) to keep the current going - so cool!

For some idea as to what this looks like, check out this video.

Sadly, between lost cell phones and accidentally deleted files, no photos of the actual consumptive event remain  (it did happen! I swear it did! I imagine it's likely to happen again though, so I will try to post photos when it does!) but please enjoy the photo below of us with an empty bowl of clam shells :D.

Minjung & I with what remained after I'd devoured the clams we'd been served as a side dish or banchan (반찬). There was a similarly sized mound in the bowl next to her father's plate :).

As an aside, I tried Dog Soup, or Bosintang (보신탕), while I was in North Korea. It wasn't bad at all! Though I have to say that if there was anything I objected to flavour wise it was the spices, not the actual dog itself!

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