Eating Live Octopus in Busan

Tentacle kisses, if you will. On Saturday, I braved the Jagalchi Market yet again to dine on sannakji (산낙지) – squirming pieces of cut up octopus usually bathed in sesame seeds and oil. As a former vegetarian suffering from ichthyophobia (fear of fish), sannakji was definitely out of my comfort zone.

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I’m back!

Although this food is out of my realm of familiarity, I want to stress that it should be viewed with an open mind. I vividly remember my friends in elementary school telling me the Filipino food I grew up eating was “disgusting” and “weird.” Americans eat less than a fourth of all known edible food in the world. How sad a world we live in where processed, factory-made food is more comfortable. Whatever the case may be, I am actually typing this post while munching on obviously-processed shrimp chips. Oh, how I love them.

As I have previously mentioned, sea life frightens me. Knowing that we were going to actually eat in a market full of renegade squid (not an exaggeration – we watched one try to escape) made me panic more than just a little. Monica, Brent, and I quickly showed Emily the infamous “penis fish,” then made our way up to the eating area. I tried desperately to keep my cool. I abhor being loud in public places and did not want to make a show. Unfortunately, Brent’s hand got the brunt of my fear – I squeezed it so hard his wedding ring left painful, lasting indents in his pinky and middle fingers. Thanks for the support though, B. Oh, and thank you for ordering that bottle of soju. Liquid courage tastes delicious from time to time.

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Penis fish in the red container.

Once we finally were served the dish (I refused to watch it get cut up to the right of us), it squirmed just as much as you imagined it to. We grabbed our chopsticks, fought with a few pieces, and then demolished them. My friends experienced suctioning on their tongues, teeth, and lips. I did not. I placed those bad boys on my molars and chewed like my life depended on it. I really do not know if I could have mentally handled feeling it squirm in my mouth. I am honestly far from an “adventurous eater,” so I can only do so much.

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Going for the goods.

One of the first things that come up when you search “eating live octopus” or “sannakji” is “death.” Crushing the pieces – especially the suckers – is crucial. As a child, Hank the Cowdog taught me it is important to chew your food several times before swallowing. If you use common sense, you’ll be fine. I mean, don’t quote me. Send your lawsuits elsewhere.

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Smoochie smoochie.

While my friends and I were chowing down on the octopus, something strange kept turning up. I knew it was the eyeball, but did not want to come to terms with it. The possibility that it could have been the beak kept me going. Once we left the market, I looked up “octopus eyes” and… well, the octopus watched us eat it alive. Although the fish I grew up eating were always whole – fins, eyes, etc. – I never wanted anything to do with the head. I still don’t. Some things change, others do not.

The next food on my list are silkworm pupae, or beondegi (번데기). As beondegi is a popular street food, I have seen it a lot. I just have to choose the right vendor and make all of my dreams come true.

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More photo booth memories.

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