8 (Tue) May 2012
at Nakji Sodong
-Sinchon, Seodaemun, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with MtG + NSJ, HSE, KIT, KKH, LHS
Nakji Sodong is a Korean restaurant. Specializes in nakji.
Nakji (낙지) is type of octopus, aka long arm octopus, Octopus minor. Typically measures about the length of a forearm. Nakji are popular to eat in Korea, where they are served raw, stir-fried, and boiled.
San Nakji is a Korean dish. The octopus is taken alive from a tank and chopped into little pieces, which are placed on a plate, where they continue to squirm – technically, not alive anymore, just the electrical impulses still at work. The pieces are dipped in chogochujang and/or sesame oil, almost always accompanied by booze, either beer and/or soju. Part of the attraction lies in the sensation of squirming tentacles and suction cups sticking to the inside of the mouth. The name of the dish means “living (san) octopus (nakji).”
A variation on san nakji – in a sense, the purest form of the dish – is to wrap a live octopus around a wooden chopstick, dip it in chogochujang and/or sesame oil, and swallow it whole. This is not a regular practice among Koreans. Famously, it was featured in the film Oldboy as a symbol of unhinged brutality. Tonight was the first that the opportunity had been presented to me. At the table, a couple others had tried it in the past but didn’t care to join me. Even at this restaurant serving nothing but octopus, it wasn’t on the menu; when I mentioned my curiosity, the owner simply snatched a specimen out of the tank, twisted the poor guy onto the chopsticks, and handed it to me. The charge was 5,000 won, simply the price of an octopus, like if we’d requested an extra octopus in one of our other dishes. It is, however, one of the most sensational/sensationalized food practices in Korea; YouTube is rife with videos of foreigners attempting it for shock value; Korean variety programs invariably push it on foreign guests, just to see if they’ll do it.
I couldn’t finish it. The first bite was unpleasant, an explosion of salt water and ink and guts from the head/body. Each successive bite made matters worse as the wriggling mass of tentacles turned from rubbery and slimy to mushy and slimy. But everyone kept telling me to chew and chew and chew, until every bit of life had been chewed away, lest a still-active tentacle adhere to my esophagus on the way down and choke me to death. Supposedly, a few people die each year from octopus-related asphyxiation – if ever anyone deserved to die in a specific manner, these people had it coming. At the 1-minute mark, the gag reflex started to kick in, forcing me spit the blackish bubbly sludge into the trash can. The long-lingering aftertaste wasn’t so great.
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