There are no casinos in Yeongdeok, but few other places rival the gaudy, hyperreal simulacra of the infamous city in the Nevada desert. Clinging to the buildings on Yeongdeok’s waterfront are giant crustaceans in bright orange armour. The town seems to exist only as a monument to the King Crab, a tribute to the insatiable Korean appetite for this sea beast. Locals have dedicated their energy to maintaining the town’s reputation as one of the best places to get a crab fix. These garish facades team with neon lights to assault pedestrians, as each crab joint hopes to be more inviting than the next. People come to worship the crab, to eat of its flesh and drink of its blood. There are no other earthly gods here, with the sea’s bounty paying the bills for many Yeongdeok residents.
Like many other epicurean pilgrims, we have come to gorge on 대게 (dae ge), also known as King Crab or Snow Crab. Like many other Korean meals, lunch here is mobile. A stroll along the waterfront had us ogling tanks and tables of bright and bristly exoskeletons, clicking against each other in a squirmy kerfuffle.
Judged by their weight, size and colour, the chosen ones are heaped onto a wagon and dragged off to an adjacent restaurant, where a steamer awaits.
The soundtrack to these restaurants consists of cracking and slurping, punctuated only by service bells and clanging in the scullery. Unlike other Korean dishes, in which meat is framed by an array of 반찬 (or side dishes), the crab is in stark focus in this restaurant. There are no side dishes served, not even kimchi. In true Asian style, not much of the crab is left uneaten. After splitting open the body, we pour the crab butter into a dish that will be used to mix with rice later in the meal. Armed with scissors and a crab fork, we pry open the legs in search of the succulent flesh. There is no polite way to eat대게 – it’s a full-body exercise. Poised over the table, we abandon all effort to maintain face and let the crab’s grey matter drip down our elbows, its sweet flesh settle on our chin.
We end with a serving of rice mixed with crab butter, seaweed and sesame seeds. This dish crowns the meal with its butter’s strong, creamy flavour.
We leave a table laden with debris and exit this King Crab carnival as it begins to light up the dusky port. Feasting will continue into the night.
This post was published in ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal.