Every culture has foods which cause people from the outside to raise an eyebrow and exclaim, “You seriously eat that?” In the US, some people eat deep-fried butter on sticks. In France, foie gras is a tasty thing to slice (not spread!) onto a baguette. In the Philippines and other countries, partially developed duck eggs are popular treats. In Korea, I have come across two such foods: bondaegi, which is fried silkworm larvae, and sannakji, which is a freshly killed octopus sliced into wiggling bits. Today, I tried the latter. Don’t worry, there’s a video!
My girlfriend and I walked down to Jukdo Market, which is home to the massive seafood market Pohang is renowned for. Here, one can find any number of aquatic oddities; among them the infamous sannakji. Despite today being the first day of the Year of the Horse –resulting in most shops around town being closed–the seafood market was still a bustling affair. It took us a few minutes to find a stand selling the small octopuses used for sannakji, but once we did the shopkeeper wasted no time preparing it. She killed the creature with a swift motion of her fingers; then she expertly sliced it–tentacles first–into tiny, wiggling bits. Less than a minute after it had been swimming in a tank, the octopus was in a Styrofoam container in my hands and we were on our merry way. Even through the Styrofoam, I could feel the pieces moving.
After getting some squid and sea squirt to go with our sannakji, we sat down at a small table and had our feast arranged before us. The sannakji is in the upper right of the picture, the sea squirt is to its immediate left. The squid wasn’t ready when I took the picture.
I’d wanted to try sannakji the first time I came to Korea, but never managed to make it happen. Luckily, this time, I got the chance. I was more than a little excited, as you can probably tell from the picture below!
When I picked up the first piece, I knew immediately it was going to be a weird sensation. The suckers on the small tentacle gripped the surface of the container, as if some small vestige of the octopus’s survival instinct remained–fighting to stay out of a predator’s mouth. After a little finagling, I got the piece out, dunked it in some sauce, and held it in front of me. This was it!