I’ll try almost any food once. Almost. And, while I’m in Korea, I’ve promised myself to be even more adventurous than I hoped I might be. Besides, you never know when you might truly find some repulsive-looking dish absolutely delightful. And I do love that Bizarre Foods show on the Travel Channel…
Anyway, with that being said, my cuisine so far has been a bit “mainstream.” At one point (about two weeks ago) I thought I was eating dog at school, only to find out later it was actually duck (my co-teachers heard me repeating “dog?” but thought I was saying “duck” so let me go right on saying it). I’ve also had some wonderful (and sometimes mysterious) street food, but mostly pretty mainstream stuff (for my tastes, anyway – others might not consider fish scales and dried squid mainstream).
So it’s midterm exam week at school. I have no classes and school’s over at around noon. Today, a big group of the English teachers basically told me I was going over to have lunch with them after school. I said very good. One of the teacher’s joked with me about having san nachi – which is live octopus. Yes, live octopus. I haven’t had it yet, but it is definitely on my list of things to try. Anyway, she was joking, and we laughed.
Oh, and here’s what a plate of san nachi looks like:
So yeah, haven’t quite made that happen yet, but I will…eventually.
So the teachers went to this restaurant and we sat down on the floor and there were two greatbig bowls of steaming broth in front of us. One had octopus tentacles and was fiery red with some veggies. Looked and smelled great. The other was a clear broth with vegetables and no octopus.
Then the waitresses came over with three octopi in hand, alive, mind you, and she dumped them into the second pot with the clear broth – which I was seated directly in front of. It looked like this:
This is not an exaggeration. This is exactly what it looked like. The squirming didn’t last long, mind you, and they died pretty quickly, but oh boy were they trying to get outta there.
Now, I don’t mind that the octopi died, or that they did so rather inelegantly. In fact, as far as octopus goes, it was some of the freshest and tastiest I’d ever had. But, I dunno, watching them squirm in front of me was…well, something. Then, at some point, before we ate, the waitress came back over and with a pair of scissors snipped the tentacles off and left the heads floating there.
Mrs. Kim spooned me some of the dishes and I ate them and we all talked and joked (mostly them, in Korean, while I sat eating and nodding as if I understood). Then, the vice principal, who was sitting to my right, pointed to the remains of the octopus heads floating around in the broth.
Mr. Jang then took the scissors and snipped the heads in two, releasing all of the ink, turning the rest of the clear broth black. The heads, I guess, are the best part. Now, I tried some of the broth, it was…murky…at best. I might try it again, maybe, but as for actually eating the heads? Not there yet, people.
They cut the heads into parts and each took some and, you know, good for them. I’m not knocking any culture’s food, not at all. I mean, a lot can be said about people eating an entire animal – lord knows most people in the States don’t practice those kinds of rigors.
I think the hardest thing about this is while growing up in a decent-sized city, food is prepared for you and you lose sight of where it’s coming from, in relation to both the land and the animal itself. You know steak comes from a cow, but actually seeing the cow die to make you that steak…it’s just different. I think that’s what I will have the hardest time getting used to. It is something, though, that I am beginning to appreciate.
What I learned:
You can totally subdue your gag reflex by dousing your meal in hot sauce. Hot sauce, apparently, destroys your body’s homeostatic mechanisms.
Small bites of something you don’t particularly have an interest in eating are much, much better than large, forceful bites that cause your eyes to tear and you to lose respect points with your peers. The face does not lie, after all.
Octopus can be a tasty little critter boiled in soup with vegetables. The octopus’ brain and innards, however, taste bitter and I would prefer not to have them ever again, even in just tiny, stray pieces. Period.