Live baby octopus. Tentacles separated from the head. Promptly and aggressively hack the legs into more manageable pieces. Sesame oil. Side of white rice. Pair of chopsticks. Breakfast of champions.
Everyone has a checklist. Mine happens to be food-related. There are dishes I’ve been wanting to try my entire life. But, only at the right time, and the right place. For instance, eating an ortolan in Mexico would be an utter disappointment. Everyone knows that must be done in the French countryside. Eating live baby octopus, Korean style, in Seoul, was up in my list. And totally did it live up to my joyous expectations.
The journey is sometimes more fulfilling than the outcome. Whilst in Seoul, my grandmother brought me to the Seoul wholesale fish market, Noryangjin, at the crack of dawn. An expansive and impressive feast of seafood delights, most of them local to Korea. Lots of shellfish, white fish, roe, and, of course, our good friend, octopus. Tanks upon tanks upon tanks of remarkably fresh, vivacious, full of life, octopi. We selected a a dozen live octopus, and some other goodies, and made our way home.
Preparing this utterly fun and eye-popping dish is simple. My grandmother first removed the octopus head from its tentacles. Then as the legs squirmed for their lives, she chopped away, aiming to trim the tentacles down into bite-sized pieces. It was so cool to watch the tentacles wriggle and worm across the cutting board, and ultimately into our serving plate. The tentacles had minds of their own, whilst the octopus head were separated and still breathing. I felt like a little kid again, playing with his food. The tentacles and heads would jump back to life, flounder and turn, when you touched them. I have never eaten anything like this, and my excitement levels were sky high.
Serving this memorable plate is also simple. My grandma seasoned the octopus tentacles with plenty of sesame oil. Watching the legs jolt, upon being showered with sesame oil, was just perfect.
Eating the live octopus tentacles is simply entertaining. The taste was incredibly clean and pure. It tasted of oceanic essence with hints of sesame oil. Delightful. Other Koreans serve this dish with Korean style hot dipping sauces. I can also see that being delicious, but I enjoyed mine the same way my grandmother does hers. But what was so especially convivial and pleasant were the textures. The octopus fighting back as you place it on your mouth. Its suction cups, wrestling to find any solid footing to stick to. In this case, suctions cups vacuuming the insides of one’s mouth and lips. The chewy texture of the octopus gave way to the crunch of the suction cups. An amusement park of mouthfeel. Be forewarned, don’t go maverick and try to eat too large of a piece at one time. These tentacles are chewy and require solid chewing before swallowing. I found myself chewing for a good couple minutes on a couple tentacles that were simply too large to go down in one try. My grandma ate the octopus heads, now that is hardcore. Runs in the family I guess.
Upon seeing my pictures and videos of the experience, the immediate reactions are of disgust, disbelief, and vitriol. I simply just don’t understand. My live octopus eating adventure was the more tame variety. I have heard and seen the videos of eaters feasting on an entire baby octopus, in one fell-swoop bite! Now, that’s what I call fortitude, and insane. And of course, upon my next Korean visit, I’ll have to give it a go!
Live baby octopus eating, a must try for the story, for sure, but also for the culture.