Monday, November 16, 2009

Eating things to death in Seoul

I must admit that my best friend and I are sometimes too eager to prove that we are not girls. Well, we are. But not the eek-a-mouse kind.

So we set out this weekend in search of something that we could chew to death.

Seoul's Noryangjin fish market has plenty of choices. The tanks and buckets on either side of the wet pavement are filled with little eels, medium-sized eels, big eels. Tiny shrimp, the size of pumpkin seeds. Huge prawn, their eyes like black peppercorns. Bloated fish lying on beds of ice, their abdomens unfolded and pointed toward the ceiling lights like a body after an autopsy. Gutted fish like fat, grey, leather purses, open, items falling out. A man carefully put live squid into his mouth. He held the creature with his thumb and his index finger and directed it into his mouth like he was eating canapé. A white tentacle hung down his chin like a tendril of mucuous.
We eventually hid from the cold inside a small restaurant down the street with three tables inside. Two men and a woman were seated at the table furthest from the door. They served us makkoli and banchan and told us to wait.

Ten minutes later, the woman who runs the eatery came inside. She looked annoyed. When Brandon told her that he wanted to eat octopus alive, miming wrapping the octopus around a chopstick, she made a face.

My best friend and I knew the moment we saw the two soft creatures sliding around the plastic bowl that we could not do it. Not because we are girls. But they were so big. Not the baby octopus that my Korean friend Yuni told us to eat. ("Oh my God, we're going to eat babies," my friend had said on the subway.)
The woman stuck the chopsticks through its bulbous head, its tentacles clinging to the bowl, to the half empty plastic bottle of makkoli, and thrust it toward Brandon's face. There was a momentary look of panic in his eyes. Maybe the restauranteur was afraid that he would lose his nerve, or maybe that she would lose hers, so she rammed the fist-sized clump of squirming, wet, grey matter into his mouth.
"Chew, chew, chew," my friend told Brandon. "Chew, chew, chew."

He chewed for awhile. "It's been like 10 minutes," my best friend joked.

"I think I just ate its eyes," he said, once he could. "I just got two crunchy things."

The woman chopped up the other octopus and tossed the pieces in garlic and oil. The wormy bits wriggled and wriggled on the plate. We ate them with hot sauce and salt but I felt a little like a girl.

Our hero, Brandon.

What the girls ate. Brandon is still chewing his octopus.

National Geographic video about eating nakji, click here.

Yuni's instructions:

Go to a big fish market which is Noryangjin Soosan(fish) Sijang(Market) or Garak Sijang, and look for a stall that sells only octopus. They will have small ones.

1. Pick your octopus. 세발낙지 작은거 (Try to bargain.)

2. Go to a bistro or a small restaurant in the market. They cook what you purchased in the market for a fee (alcohol is separate). Ask them to cut the head and steam or boil. Rest of the part, u will have as it is: 머리는 삶아주시고 나머지는 통째로 주세요. 자르지 마세요.

3. Try with vinegarated hot sauce(초고추장) or seasame oil with salt(참기름장).

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