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Jan 2, 2008 04:26 AM

Korean Live Octopus [split from Outer Boroughs]

(Note: This post was split from the Outer Boroughs board at: -- The Chowhound Team).

Well, I can definitely see how it would disgust or repel some people, but, really, it's a cultural thing. I had it in Korea - on a very chilly night in Seoul with some Soju (Korean vodka) - and loved it. Perhaps you already know this, but, the animal is, in fact, dead, the moving tentacles remnants of nerve endings that have yet to die. The octopus is killed very quickly, and probably suffers as much or less than a lobster being thrown into a vat of boiling water and definitely less so than a great many cooped-up chickens. Then again, we can't really know this for sure, can we?

Barbaric? Maybe so. But no more or less than eating other animals that have been killed for our dining pleasure.

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  1. Polecat thanks for explaining that! I, too, had it in Seoul, at Noryangin Fish Market, and I think the dish remains the oddest of any that I have ever eaten! Very unusual sensation as you feel it moving in your mouth and throat!

    19 Replies
    1. re: erica

      Definitely unusual. As can often be the case, the vodka helps. How did you like it?

      1. re: Polecat

        The first jolt came when they presented the platter heaped with the octopus and it was all sqiggling and wiggling on the plate. Honestly I could barely believe my eyes. But yes, I was instructed to down a healthy gulp of shoju (??) before and after!! The taste was fine but for me it was difficult to get past the sensation of eating something that was moving.. But the Noryangin fish market should be on every chowhound's gold list...some of the varieties of sea creatures they had on offer were truly odd-looking...I wish I could post a few pics. There were some pink things that looked exactly like male organs....exactly!! Those were right up there on the list of bizarre looking fodstuffs, let me tell you!!

        On the same trip, we also had horsemeat sashimi..that, too, took some mind games for me to get past the idea of raw horsemeat. But it was quite tasty..excellent, in fact. That was at a Japanese restaurant , also in Seoul..

        1. re: erica

          I believe i have eaten those pink things that you refer to... They are definitely an acquired taste... I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater, but I can't say I'll eat those things again.

            1. re: hannaone

              Once again, thank you Hannaone!

              I spoke to my mother. I have not had Kaebul, the pink phallic things. I had Mung gae, another pink sea creature. Some kind of urchin. I am trying to find a picture, but not succeeding.

                1. re: bitsubeats

                  Yes, that looks more like what I ate, although the ones I ate had more of a phallic protuberence, hence the confusion when Erica posted her description of the kaebul. That was a very informative site, bitsubeats! Thanks very much.

                  I must admit, I tried it a couple of time in Korean, but I was not the hugest fan of mung gae. I found it had a bitter flavour that I couldn't quite enjoy, and the crunchy bits threw me for a loop too. Both times, we ate them as Hwe (raw with kochujang and raw garlic). The first time, we were on Jeju Island, and we ate the mung gae as part of the daily catch of the women divers, along with some abalone, on a beach. The abalone was delicious. The mung gae I ate out of politeness, but I was not so thrilled. Still it was certainly Fresh! The second time, it came out as an appetizer in a Hwe restaurant. It was the same.

                  Still, I'd try it again if I am offered. I am trying to convince my parents to plan another trip to Korea with me! They may be taking the bait...

            2. re: erica

              These are the creatures..does anyone know what they are:

              1. re: erica

                i think its a type of sea cucumber

                1. re: Lau

                  Thanks, Lau. Pretty odd looking, right? I finally figured out how to post pics on CH, hence the revival of this older case anyone was wondering.

                2. re: erica

                  ya that is a form of sea cucumber. I was there at that market this summer also; it was awesome. live octopus was great; did you eat the eye?

                  personally, I didn't like the sea squirts though.

                  1. re: bigjeff

                    sea squirts are kind of weird, they just taste like salt water when you bite into them, they're okay if its in a stew

                    im not the biggest fan of sea cucumber, its decent, but it doesn't really taste like much, ill eat it, but its usually really expensive if its any good

                  2. re: erica

                    If you're talking about the penis shaped ones, they are called Gae-bul.

                    Above the penis shaped stuff and above right are two types of sea cucumbers, or Hae Sam, and top right are sea squirts - Mung Gae.

                    I've never had Gae Bul but mung gae and hae sam are definitely acquired tastes...IMO a little soju to wash everything down is an absolute must.

                    1. re: joonjoon

                      So the mystery is solved! Gae Bul! Many thanks...but I am not going to rush around looking for them here in NY. I do have my personal limits!

                3. re: Polecat

                  I had this for the first time recently when I was in Seattle. While it tasted just fine what I found most disconcerting was the thought of the tentacles attaching themselves to the interior of my throat as I was swallowing them. In order to prevent this I just made sure to chew each piece VERY thoroughly :D

                    1. re: dagoose

                      It was at a sushi place in Shoreline. I forget what it's called. It's on Aurora and it has a big ugly blue sign. I think the place used to a be a Chinese restaurant.

                      1. re: dagoose

                        i think blim is talking about bada hoeh center or it's english name 'bada sushi'. great korean sashimi.


                4. Polecat
                  Thank you for explaining the process to me. I had visions of people slicing up and consuming a living creature, piece by piece. It sounded horrific, even for our jaded senses.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Tay

                    Given the name, it sounds more gruesome and surreal than it actually is. Erica's description (see above) is pretty much on the money, though. If you don't like eating moving parts, this dish might not go down so well.

                    1. re: Polecat

                      I think it's a safe bet to say this dish will never, ever be consumed by me. Just the thought makes me shudder.

                    2. re: Tay

                      Eddie Lin of the Deep End Dining blog, and fomer LA chowhound poster, has a video on his site eating live octopus at Prince restaurant in LA's Koreatown. This will give you a good visual on what to expect.

                    3. All due respect Polecat, defending something like that as a "cultural thing" is an enormous fucking cop-out. The Chinese like to keep bears alive to tap their bile for medicinal purposes too, but the cultural angle doesn't excuse it. I'm pretty much off octopus entirely anyway after finding out about their level of intelligence and sensitivity (and it's not easy considering how delicious good grilled Greek octopus can be) but eating a freshly killed squirming plate of it is ENTIRELY different than tucking into a steak, no matter how rare. Why not just seek out one of those Indiana Jones-style live monkey brain banquets? There's a reason people eat ortolan with a napkin over their faces and only some of it is to protect the diners from squirting oil. It's a shameful practice. Like this san-nak-ji business and I'll have none of it.
                      IMH, somewhat O (outraged), O

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: HankyT

                        to each their own and i understand your argument about the octopus and its intelligence (and i can respect that), but id like to understand how you think a steak is better than san nak ji? i mean if they served you the steak right after they killed the cow how is that any better than eating the steak a few weeks later? As one of the posts pointed out the octopus is dead when you eat it, it simply moves b/c of nerves just like a chicken running around if you cut off the head (and its obviously dead)

                        1. re: HankyT

                          "...eating a freshly killed squirming plate of it is ENTIRELY different than tucking into a steak, no matter how rare..."

                          how so? dead is dead, no?
                          i think the issue here - and perhaps this is fodder for a whole other thread - is, is the animal suffering? all evidence, as far as we know it in the case of live octopus, would indicate that the animal is not suffering. or, if it did suffer, its' suffering is over. if that is the case, then does it really matter when the animal was killed? i know that, in the case of some of the freshest fish and sushi around, the fish's mouth continues to move, in some cases for several minutes, following death. it's just that, in the case of sushi, we don't have to bear witness to it. for that matter, most of us never have to bear witness to the way animals are killed in order for us to eat a steak or a burger.

                          and, yeah, the animals we choose to kill, the food we choose to eat, the way we choose to eat it is most definitely cultural. by that i mean that, in the case of live octopus, for instance, it is considered by a great many korean people to be drinking food. they are more used to it, and, hence, less grossed out by it. by that same token, there are some cultures that won't go near meat; they might be just as outraged as you are by the live octopus dish.

                          1. re: Polecat

                            It seems barbaric to me -- maybe not to the octopus if it is in fact dead already -- but it takes the diner down to a cruel level to play the role of a gloating, indulgent conquerer. Why else would you eat it that way? Because you can. I don't know about you, but I don't need to feel as if I have defeated my food. A humanely killed cow (I know that term could -- and no doubt does -- support multiple boards all by itself), cut into steaks and prepared, doesn't have to illustrate its former animate state as I eat it. I'm not hiding from the fact that it was alive. I appreciate what it went through to end up on my plate and I don't take it for granted. But to ask that it perform a twitchy dance macabre as i tuck into it is not necessary. That seems like added and wholly unnecessary cruelty.

                        2. No. Civilizations have sharp divisions between them, and eating live animals mark a distinction between one side and the other. If you subscribe to pan-cultural relativism then you can eat human brains with the headhunters in Borneo. If not, then we have to stand our ground in what could be called a fully civilized society. Cuisine has vast cultural implications, and eating live animals mark where the status of those implications rest.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: NYJewboy

                            Yes... but one has to remember that clams and oysters on the half shell often are not fully expired when eaten.