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.
After choosing your victim, you can sit down about one metre from its tank to enjoy it cooked or live, and often kicking.
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.
The Culture Muncher by Deva Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.