Edible Curios: A Lunch of Live Sea Urchin

I can remember the first time I touched a sea urchin, when I was about five years old. While placing the bright pink creature on my outstretched hand, my dad told me not to close my hand, no matter what. I watched, terrified and fascinated, as it crawled across my tiny palm. I also have countless memories of collecting sea urchin skeletons and stacking them up in my bedroom biggest to smallest. It seemed so strange to me that the creature could exist in two remarkably different forms. Now in South Korea, I, once again, met the urchin as a curio: an object that I could possess and behold. But this time I ate it.

A recent trip to Jagalchi fish market in Busan provided an opportunity for me to see the sea urchin in a whole new context. Aptly described by my friend Emily Bell as an “edible pet shop”, Jagalchi sells fresh live fish and seafood.

We were greeted by an gaebul-squirting ajumma, who kept us dutifully entertained.

Gaebul, a kind of sea worm, loosely translates as “sea penish” or “penis fish”. True story.

After choosing your victim, you can sit down about one metre from its tank to enjoy it cooked or live, and often kicking.

Pic by Craig Groenewald

Surprisingly, it tasted nothing like fish, seafood or the ocean. It was rich, almost creamy, in flavour – I loved it immediately. Pleasure’s usual bedfellow, guilt, soon followed. I felt I had betrayed the pink urchin on the rocks in some small way, though I had no viable argument to explain the feeling.

After gulping down the best oysters I have ever tasted, I left Jagalchi without a sandy skeleton in my pocket, but with the same wonder the urchin inspired in me two decades before.

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The Culture Muncher by Deva Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

10 responses to “Edible Curios: A Lunch of Live Sea Urchin

  1. Yummy! Getting under the skin of the Korean culinary experience seems to be becoming a passion of yours. Your descriptions evoke a feeling of being blindfolded….I can’t taste, but I can imagine, and want.

  2. I think I’d have to eat this one cooked!!! Heading to Busan next month as one of my co-workers wants to try the live baby octopus before she leaves Korea. Not for me haha!

    Korean food is delicious, but often so, so bizarre. I’ve never tried a sea penis before. Other kinds of penis perhaps, but never one from the sea…and never a cooked one.

    TMI Tuesday.

  3. 안녕! I ate lots of strange things in Korea, but couldn’t quite bring myself to try sea urchin. San Nakji was probably the weirdest thing I have ever and will ever eat 🙂 I miss Korea!

  4. Sea urchin ore – kina out here in the south pacific – stirred through hot pasta is a great delicacy. You get here, I’ll make it for you. great post – hungry now…

  5. I love the imagery of your blog! New fan here :). I enjoy a good sea urchin now and again as well (the guilt subsides when not taken from tank to table) lol! 🙂

    • Thanks Squishy Monster 🙂 I think this dish is going to be one of my favourites, despite the fact that I usually enjoy wriggle-free food!

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