Things I’ve eaten

Looking at my adventures that have occurred over the period of my absence, I thought two particular entries sounded fun to write. My first Korean hike, and a run down of things I’ve eaten. The post  about the hike will have to wait a bit. It will have more background information and stuff in it and less pictures, so I’ll write it a bit later. Besides, since I love cooking and I love eating things, writing about food sounds like fun.

Silkworm Pupa (번데기)

This is actually something I really wanted to eat shortly after I arrived. It is silkworm pupae boiled in water with some seasoning. In the United States, very few insects are eaten normally, so my chances to eat bugs are rather limited. Here in Korea, silkworm pupae can be purchased from street vendors (honestly, I’ve only seen them in Insadong so far) and are sometimes eaten as a snack. In my case, a friend and I went into a drinking establishment that also served food. Or possibly a restaurant that sold a lot of drink? Either way, these were set on the table.

Now, even if you can’t tell that they’re silkworm pupae, you can tell immediately that they’re bugs. There is no doubt about that. Many of the foreigners I’ve met in Korea haven’t eaten this yet. I’ve only met one person who had tried them. I had asked them how they taste and he had said, “exactly like you would expect a bug to taste.”  At the time, I hated that answer. So vague and unhelpful. But then I ate one. And that is exactly what I thought. I didn’t really have some preconception in my mind of what a bug tasted like, but while I was chewing this pupa, I thought, “What the hell did I expect? This is exactly what a bug should taste like.”  I think I might give them another try if they were set on my table again, but I wouldn’t seek them out. I didn’t particularly like eating them. I’ve talked to many of my Korean friends about them and I’ve found that girls generally don’t like them, and that older guys usually do. Again, that is kind of exactly what you expect.

Samgyetang (삼계탕)

Despite how horrifying looking the picture of this one is, it is actually a pretty normal dish. Samgyetang is a chicken soup. It has a whole chicken in it, ginseng, garlic, some boiled egg yolks, and some other good stuff. The wood seen in the picture is a medicinal branch that is supposed to be very good for you. The place we ate at was recommended to us by Tiger. The chicken was house raised and everything was made from scratch. Before eating the soup, I was given a pill to prevent an allergic reaction. I’m not sure what part of the soup caused the reaction, but my friends explained that it did cause a reaction in some people and it would tear up your stomach.

The soup was really pretty good, but despite the fact that wood and bones were floating in it, it was more or less just a chicken soup. It wasn’t radically different from chicken soups I’ve eaten before, although it does contain many ingredients I’m not used to. Actually, the most shocking thing about this meal was the price. The restaurant we went to was pretty pricy. This was the second most expensive meal I’ve eaten in Korea.

Sea Squirt, or Ascidian (멍게)

Ascidians are very strange looking sea creatures, and one of the many things in the ocean I have not yet gotten to eat. They were on my list of things to eat here since I had seen them in fish marts and restaurant fish tanks and they aren’t an animal I’m used to seeing in the states. Like the silkworm pupae above, this one kind of fell into my lap. I was out drinking with two of my good friends when they ordered this. We actually tried to get a live octopus, but they were sold out.

Despite the bright color, the flesh has a texture not unlike a clam or oyster or some shell-based creature like that. The taste isn’t like that at all though. It has a mild, mollusk like flavor, but it is also sour tasting, almost ammonia-like. This sour attribute isn’t something shaken easily. The sea squirt came with a hot pepper sauce mixed with wasabi and a sesame oil mixed with salt. The flavor when mixed with the hot pepper sauce was fantastic, although with the sesame oil it didn’t mix as well. At the same place we got a sea cucumber that was still alive despite being chopped up. It had a mild flavor and a somewhat unpleasant texture, but it went well with the sesame oil and it also went well with my soju.

A Live Octopus

I have some video footage of this, but the footage didn’t come out very good because it was so dark where we were eating it. And I didn’t take any pictures. If you can’t imagine what it looks like, there is an abundance of footage on youtube. I plan to eat this again, so when I do I can upload some footage of my own. This dish was the number one thing I wanted to try in Korea. A live octopus has its tentacles cut off and they continue to move and dance around for quite a while. After a bit they had stopped moving, but the moment they were disturbed by my chopsticks, they went crazy again. I had heard that this dish was somewhat dangerous to eat because the octopus can grasp the inside of your throat and you can choke on it. This had me nervous about it since I had been drinking and didn’t expect a live octopus to arrive at the table. It just happened suddenly because my Korean friend ordered it while we were drinking together. But any fear of choking dissipated as soon as I started eating. The octopus came with two sauces, a red pepper sauce and sesame oil with salt, the same as the sea squirt, only minus the wasabi. If the tentacle was dipped in either sauce before being eaten, the octopus couldn’t grab hold of anything in my mouth. Additionally, most of the tentacles kind of gave up in my mouth. I could only faintly feel any movement after they got in there. I had one or two that were aggressive and I ate a piece without sauce to see how it would feel for it to grab in my mouth, but other than that, I can’t imagine someone choking unless they didn’t dip the octopus parts in sauce and then attempted to swallow the arm without chewing. I had expected it to be similar to eating raw octopus, only with the gimmick of movement, making it interesting to eat one time, but not worth eating regularly. But I actually thoroughly enjoyed eating it while drinking soju. I wouldn’t hesitate to eat it again.

Chicken Feet (닭발)

I went to eat chicken feet twice, but only ate them one time. The first was with a buddy of mine who told me chicken feet were popular with girls, so it was good to go to eat chicken feet if we wanted to meet girls. The other guy we were with got impatient and wanted to go to a bar instead, so we left the restaurant before we got in. Later, I was with a few friends of mine who are girls, and they took me to eat chicken feet (which seems to confirm my male friend’s statement).

The strange thing about chicken feet is that I can’t say a single thing about them that makes them sound delicious. Despite that, I really enjoyed eating them and I loved the taste. They’re a bit spicy. They have a strange, strange texture. They’re full of tiny, tiny bones. we were given gloves to wear while we ate them to keep our hands clean, and we had a plate to spit out the little bones. I imagine any reader would not think this sound all that appetizing, but to me it has some of the same appeal that buffalo wings had in the states. I was also told that girls liked chicken feet because they contain collagen and are good for the skin.

Pig’s Feet (족발)

Which brings me to this dish. Pig’s feet. They’re also collagen rich and very popular with girls here. Both chicken and pig’s feet strike me as a drinking food, especially since the American equivalents of buffalo wings and pickled pig’s feet are more or less drinking foods. Despite this, most of the Korean girls I know here love pig’s feet for the benefits it gives their skin. Chicken feet seem slightly less popular because of they are much spicier and full of bones.

Eating pig’s feet reminded me of eating a juicy roast. The meat was pretty fatty and chewy, but it was good. I ate this at one of Tiger’s friend’s restaurant. I liked the pig’s feet the best with green onion and a sweet sauce with it, although I didn’t take a picture of it. The owner of the restaurant was pretty generous and let me try a few dishes. If I can ever find his restaurant in Bucheon again, I’ll definitely go.

One of the things that makes me glad I chose to come to Korea instead of Japan, is that most of the cuisine is unknown to me. At least once a week I end up eating something completely new that I’ve never had before, and a lot of it is incredibly delicious.

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~ by James on May 12, 2012.

One Response to “Things I’ve eaten”

  1. wow james u r brave thinking of u enjoy all blogs awsome

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