You know, you are out of the tourist traps when the only other person who speaks English fluently is your date.
We drove onto the beach of Yeongdo, a small island in Busan harbor. There was row after row of yellow and red tents serving the catch of the day to older men and women who we’re on their “second stop” for the night. We walked into one of the small restaurants and took off our shoes.
We soon sat at a table with five other people, where I was introduced as migukin Krista and the fish ordering frenzy began. I wasn’t given much say in the ordering as pretty much everything that Hostel pointed at I said, “Nope, I haven’t tried that. I will though.”
This is how I ended up eating sea cucumber, sea penis and a Korean version of cioppino.
First up was a lovely mussel soup. I love, love fresh seafood. So I was happy to pluck mussels from their shells and sip on the sweet broth while we drank our way through soju bottle one. The worst part was realizing that even though I think I know chogum hangeulmal when the adults are talking I know amu. The best part was having my chopstick use complimented.
There was plenty of translating, food and booze to keep me happily entertained for the evening. Once the mussels were out of the way, a giant platter of clams, a few sporting peppers, onions and cheese, were brought over. The clams were cooked over a charcoal stove in the middle of the table along with a stew of Korean hot sauce, mussels, clams, cheese, peppers and onions.
The woman handling the cooking took the oysters by the shell and let them cook in their own juices. I was completely fascinated by the process and wanted to try it out. But I didn’t feel like I would be entrusted to caring for the cooking since my correct soju pouring was met with much “oohhing” and “ahhing.”
When the clams were finished, the final bits of stew were mixed with rice to make a lovely (and thankfully much less spicy) dish. I love how pretty much everything gets mixed with rice to make meal complete. At this point we were a few bottles in and the owner was prepared to give us “service.”
“Service” consisted of a giant platter with oysters, sea penis, sea cucumbers and sea urchins.
I proudly downed an oyster with a bit of hot sauce. It was as expected, salty and bit boogery, but I enjoyed it. I like the salty fresh taste of the ocean in an oyster, even if the texture is something out of an elementary school haunted house.
Next I tentatively tried the sea cucumber. Surprisingly it was chewy with texture a bit more like leather than I was anticipating. Similar to an oyster, it tasted like the ocean. However this wasn’t a texture I was going to get over in a hurry so I moved onto the sea urchin.
The sea urchin proved to be slippery and bland. I probably should have followed Hostel’s lead and soaked it in soy sauce and wasabi, but I ate it plain so it was a bit boring. Aside from it’s brilliant orange color there was nothing positive about the urchin.
As for the sea penis, well, I was shocked to find it also had a leathery texture similar to the sea cucumber. However it was completely devoid of flavor. One bite was enough for me. My lifetime quota for eating sea penis has been fulfilled.
At that point, I’d had enough sea food for the night and happily stuck to my somek. When the drinking died down and it was time to head out, I was decidely happy I spent my evening with fresh sea food and new friends.