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!
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Nice work! You illustrate it so well and build up the tension. Its fun living in a place where eating can be an adventure. Ive eaten it too and i remember being really nervous but then afterward being glad i did it. Havent had it since however. Dont know if thats a good sign for a dish
do you know how often Koreans have it? Hey…are you going to try dog meat someday? Ill do it with you! Im getting excited just thinking about that. Lets do a video! We can do a video where one of us hates it and the other loves it. Just an idea.
I’m not sure if it’s a common dish or not. My girlfriend had it with me; she’s had it before but only a few times. I guess it would depend where in the country people live too. Probably more common in coastal towns 😉
I’ve had dog a few times (in the soup form called boshintang). It was pretty good, didn’t see what the big fuss was about. I wrote a pretty abrasive article about it and got the animal rights hounds after me a bit… that was a fun time. Haha. I cut off the comments after a while… but there are a few fun ones left!
Evan and Rachel
Nice! I really thought it was going to escape haha. We enjoyed it too. Our video was uploaded years ago, we need to make an update sannakji video! 😛 I’ve done the whole octopus thing too, but the head is super hard to chew!! Didn’t like it at all.
Meagan | LifeOutsideOfTexas.com
I did this my first year in Korea, not because I wanted to, but because I was peer pressured. I don’t eat seafood so I just went along to watch, but it’s hard to resist when 8 other people at the table are doing it. I had a small piece and I’m glad I did. It didn’t really have a taste and it was a lot of fun and a great story. You ate a thick piece! The one I ate was so thin. Well done!
Agreed, such a great story, nice work for taking the plunge! 🙂 I’d try it again, but I don’t think I’d ever do the one where the octopus is whole. That’s way too crazy for me.
Meagan | LifeOutsideOfTexas.com
I agree. Eating the whole octopus is pretty hardcore! I’d try it again too, but only to experience it with someone that hasn’t tried it. I’ll do one!
That is very brave Nathan!
I didn’t have the courage to watch the video so I doubt I’ll have the courage to try it. Watched a documentary on S. Korean cuisine once and Sannakji was featured heavily. I think that’s when I decided, nope not doing that. The guy in the docu said you’ve got to make sure you chew the bits properly or it could kill you. That’s taking “risks with food” to a whole new level as far as I’m concerned. Haha. I love experimenting with food but I’ll draw the line if something is still moving on my plate. Keep trying out new things for us wimpy ones 🙂
Ha ha ha! I thought it was going to escape for a second then…