Hello and welcome to a summer edition of Mastication Monologues! I just got back from a short weekend jaunt to Busan in the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula. I definitely enjoyed my time there as it was filled with plenty of sun, surf, and super people we met along the way. However, the main point of this post is that I crossed off two more of my Korean food challenges while seeing a new place. One of the biggest tourist attractions in Busan is the Jagalchi Fish Market, and it was the first thing we visited since it was right next to our hostel.
Not only is it the biggest fish market in Korea, but it was probably one of the least smelliest fish markets I’ve ever been in. I was quickly face to face with one of the more notorious types of “fish” in Korea: 개불 or gaebul or penis fish. It’s quite an apt name when you see them in person.
Anyway, so I was looking at them in the basket just chilling out there, and very quickly one of the fishmongers asked me if I wanted to look at one.
I replied in the affirmative, and she quickly pulled one out and almost shoved it in my face. However, she then proceeded to squeeze it, and the “fish” literally began to start peeing out water.
This was getting a bit too real for me, and she proceeded to throw it back in with the other members in the basket. However, I signaled that I wanted to eat it, and she smiled and yelled out, “Sashimi!” to her friends. What that meant for those not familiar with sushi terms or the Korean version, “Hoe“, it meant that I was going to eat it raw. It was only 2,000 Won for one gaebul. I saw that the fish quickly shrunk, and it was full of blood while she was slicing through the flesh. She brought it out to me awash in a devilishly red gojuchang chili sauce, and I found the taste to be surprisingly delightful. I never thought I would be saying that after eating something named after a male sexual organ. Texture-wise it was quite firm yet slightly rubbery, and taste-wise it kind of had a neutral taste even though I was expecting some sort of briny wave of flavor.
Overall, it was better than the second fish dish I had that didn’t quite live up to the hype.
Now if you know me, I’m one of the biggest Simpsons fans, so I was naturally intrigued by the episode where Homer eats fugu (literally meaning “river pig”) or poisonous blowfish. The danger lies in the organs like the liver and eyes, and if not prepared correctly, a diner will slowly become paralyzed while still conscious. Eventually the person will die of asphyxiation, and there is no antidote for the poison once ingested. Sounds like a tasty meal, right?
After taking down my sexually suggestive snack, we wandered about the Jagalchi area and ended up finding a restaurant that specialized in 복국 or bokguk which is a blowfish soup. When I walked in there was only one man going to town on a bowl of fish soup, but the owners were surprised when I asked him for a bowl of pufferfish soup (10,000 won). While I was waiting at the table, the ladies in the back were just staring at me like I was a madman. While they set out the side dishes, they warily approached me like I was some sort of superhuman being. Eventually they set it out for me, and I just saw a clear broth filled with bean sprouts.
I slowly began to eat the crispy veggies along with the occasional peppery perilla leaf, but the clear broth was quite bland. Once diving beneath the layer of semi-mediocrity, I was face to face with three big pieces of pufferfish. Most of the pieces were bones unfortunately. I was somewhat freaked out since I could see the black and white skin along with the eye sockets (one of most poisonous areas), but thankfully the skin is safe. I took a couple bites of the tender white flesh that was hanging off the bones, and in the back of my head I was somewhat freaking out thinking whether or not it was going to be my last.
The flesh of the pufferfish was actually disappointing. Although the flesh was quite delicate in terms of texture, it was devoid of any sort of flavor. So if this was going to be my last meal, I’d definitely ask for a refund. However, in the end, I could proudly say that I survived eating a potentially life-threatening animal regardless of my crestfallen state after consuming it. Plus, it was just another highlight of a great weekend trip to my new favorite city in Korea.
In the end, if you were to try one of the two, I would suggest trying the penis fish over the blowfish soup. It’s more than a mouthful of culinary pleasure ;).