Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One Bite: Sannakji (aka "Korean Viagra")

Posted By on 01.11.11 at 10:00 AM

Its 9not)

Korean men eat all sorts of things that are supposed give them staying power in the sack. There's dog meat, goat stew, red ginseng, deer antler whiskey, and on and on. None are quite so dramatic as sannakji, the raw, still wriggling tentacles of a recently dispatched baby octopus. It's a popular drinking food, and as the abundance of YouTube videos attest, it's just the sort of thing Koreans love to inflict on foreign visitors. I was no exception when I was there in 2006. Multiple hosts took us to restaurants that specialize in all preparations of the cephalopods (generally known as nakji). These sessions invariably involved much arm punching and many shots of soju downed after toasts to the embiggening powers of "Korean Viagra." On one occasion a feisty critter caught in a waitress's tongs reached out a tentacle and snatched the glasses out of a pal's shirt pocket before it was dunked in a roiling hotpot. Hysterics ensued.

Sannakji's pleasures are primarily tactile. Once the tentacles are severed from the head, residual nerve activity keeps them squirming for a long time. They don't taste like much at all, but once dipped in sesame oil and chile paste, there's nothing quite like a bunch of suckers furiously attaching themselves to your lips, tongue, and cheeks. They fight you all the way down.

I was told—though I've found no evidence of it—that nakji's envigorating qualities are such that at one time they were fed to exhausted oxen. In fact, along with live snakes they are given to combatants in Korean bullfights prebout.

There are plenty of anecdotes about the hazards of sannakji. Several poor sots are said to choke to death on them every year, and I was told they're rarely eaten raw in the warm months because warm-water nakji harbor nasty bacteria.

Its alive!

HMart assistant manager Woo Sung wasn't so sure about that, but he did say nakji caught in the cold months are very fine: "fully mature," as he put it. The store started carrying them about four weeks ago and they sell out pretty quickly at $15.99 apiece (you're required to buy them in pairs). When we spoke yesterday they were down to their last two, though he expects new shipments every Friday for the remainder of the winter.

If you pick some up, make sure you eat them as soon as possible. The pair I bought, refrigerated overnight in their water, were pretty sluggish the next day. You wouldn't want your performance to suffer.


Eating Live Octopus from Sirmaresh on YouTube

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