First Time Eating Live Octopus
Since writing my Korean Bucket List, I’ve been on a hunt to check things off. The boyfriend and I spent most of last week in Busan watching way too many films at the Busan International Film Festival and had some time to spare before the last movie of the event. We were feeling ballsy (or maybe it was just the rum talking) so we decided to try sannakji for the first time. 산낙지, or “Sannakji” is live octopus (“nakji” means small octopus. Obviously there’s no way I’d be tackling a large live octopus) – the freshest seafood you could ever eat.
We ventured down the main strip of Haeundae Beach and approached a few places that had an octopus on their sign. “Sannakji?” we asked. “Ohh sannakjiii? No, no, no!” was the first two responses we got. A woman at the second restaurant kindly pointed us down the street to another restaurant. Again, we asked “Sannakji?” – “Sannakji? Oh, yes! Mah-sheet-saw-yo!” (맛있어요, or “It’s delicious!”) she said while another Korean man lead us to our table.
He handed us menus, showed us the sannakji (costing 30,000 won) and we ordered. “Do you serve whole?” we asked trying to mime a whole octopus, as opposed to one cut up into pieces. “Whole?” he mimed back, “No no no” he said chopping his right hand down onto an imaginary octopus, “cannot eat whole”. We knew you can eat them whole but we figured chopped up might be a better way to try it for the first time.
Before we had time to mentally prepare, he was placing a dozen side dishes in front of us, along with the bottle of Soju we thought necessary to order as well. As we inspected and were thoroughly grossed out by the bowl of silkworm larvae (Beondegi), our server was already placing the squirming bowl of sannakji in front of us.
How an animal can move so much after being completely chopped into a hundred pieces, I do not know. After watching the sliced up octopus crawl around for a minute, we dove in. It actually tastes pretty good, once you get over the whole, eating-a-live-animal thing. At first, I was chewing it as fast as I could because I heard that people have died eating it – they’ll forget to chew and the octopus will latch onto their throats and choke them. These people were usually drunk, however, and I only had a few shots.
I kind of wanted to feel it move around in my mouth so I wouldn’t chew it as quickly, but then it would just suction onto my cheeks, tongue and lips, which might’ve been the most uncomfortable feeling in the world. So I stuck with chewing it as fast as possible after that.
They’re super strong, despite being completely hacked up, and would suction onto the bowl (or table when I dropped them), making it hard to pick up with chopsticks.
We ate at least half of the bowl of sannakji before deciding we had had enough and asked them to cook up the rest. While they seared the remaining octopus with garlic and onions, we tried the other mysterious sides that were given to us. Beondegi, or silkworm larvae, tasted like dirt but the bowl of shells were actually pretty tasty.
Because words can only say so much, you can watch for yourself:
This was definitely good preparation for the real challenge: eating a whole live octopus.
Like this girl, she’s a champ:
Where to eat sannakji in Busan, Korea:
I’m sure there are many places that serve sannakji, but here’s the location of the one we went to:
It’s on a side street on the right off the main strip of Haeundae (if you’re walking towards the beach and away from the metro/train station). No idea what it’s called but there are tanks of different types of seafood outside.