I love octopus. I don’t just love them when they’re smuggling coconuts or wrestling with gachapon, they’re one of my favourite foods. I’ve been trying to arrange a sannakji dinner in LA for what seems like years now, ever since I found out about the delicious, still moving, still kind-of-alive octopus dish. Sojung made it happen in Korea, and for that, I’m in her debt. On to the narrative of consumption.
Lets start small. I noted in an earlier post about the prevalence of scissors in restaurants in Seoul, but this is the only photo I have of a table button. Basically whenever you want service at many, many Seoul restaurants, you press that button and someone comes running. For some reason whenever we were at a place that had a button, I was adjacent to it and was on button duty.
Before the meal, several banchan came, including this mystery dish that no one touched.
Also Nokdumuk, which is mung bean jelly, a basically flavourless jelly that was in a mild sauce with some spices. I like eating this kind of thing, but it’s always very hard to manipulate, especially given the steel chopsticks that you find in Korea.
Also, a little salad. Basically this was like coleslaw, but unmixed.
Next came a soft, silky omelette. I’m pretty sure that this is the Korean dish known as Gyeran Jjim, which is basically steamed eggs. Kind of like a less-custard-y chawanmushi, but with more flavour going on. This was really, really good.
Then the sannakji came, and everything got awesome. Basically, a wriggling platter, the remains of one delicious octopus, divided into bite sized pieces, each attempting to “go its own way.” The video above really says it all. Served with both a chili sauce for dipping, and a oil with sesame seeds sauce, it was like the essence of octopus, both in terms of flavour and character. The sesame/oil dip is mild, but tasty, keeping the octopus flavour very accessible and pure and the chili sauce is like wrestling food + tasty heat.
It fights all the way to your mouth, and is hard to keep on your chopsticks, although some of the tentacles with particularly aggressive suckers are really, really hard to separate from whatever it is they think they’re doing at the time. This was a really fun food to eat. I kind of felt like a child eating this, because it was so new in so many ways.
The bigger pieces need to be managed with scissors, and it’s a bit of an awkward situation, really hard to cut and sort of makes everyone feel silly. All the parts of the octopus are there, although the beak and ink sac are not present. It’s not just tentacles, there’s body, organs and other randomness on the plate.
The restaurant where we at the sannakji was an octopus specialty restaurant, you could pretty much order anything, so long as it was octopus. Lots of people were eating fried octopus, but we also ordered this chili and octopus dish, that I think might be called nakji bokum. It’s basically stir fried octopus in chili paste with vegetables, particularly some really excellent greens of some kind. It’s insane, it’s hot, it’s delicious. If you desire octopus, but like it cooked, this should be on your to do list.
That’s the nakji bokum mixed with rice. We closed out our dinner with this refreshing dish. I’m kind of into this mix a bowl of soup or other food with rice thing. It’s weird to eat food where rice comes in at the end of the meal, I’m used to it being served at the beginning, and it seems odd to eat it at the end, but it’s growing on me.