Korea: Chicken feet and eels and other everyday snacks

Every culture has their share of ‘weird’ food – Southeast Asia has balut, Scandinavia has lutefisk, the Aussies have Vegemite. But no culture possesses so many of them like Korea. The list goes on and on… Blood sausage, silkworm pupae, fermented fish heads, raw marinated crab, fermented fish, shrimp paste, dog soup…

Yesterday, I got to try a couple of items from this macabre list. Now, when I say try, I don’t mean that I licked it with my eyes closed as a dare – most of these are actual food items that I enjoy greatly, and I was happy to order them after a lengthy absence in my diet. 

This is chicken feet, lathered in a spicy sauce. There isn’t much meat on it – you suck on it a little and spit out the bones – but the sauce is fiery, it tugs at your throat on the way down, and it’s spicy as all get-out. 

And then you eat it with a glove, like this:

Cool, eh?

There’s also chicken gizzard, which was the only item in the menu I hadn’t tried before. (It’s the middle one in the picture above.) It was surprisingly delicious – meaty, a little chewy, and wonderfully savory. 

Finally, there was eel – or more accurately, hagfish. (I looked it up, and apparently hagfish is the only animal to have a skull without a vertebra.) It definitely looks tasty when it’s alive, doesn’t it:

Hagfish, as it turns out, is amazing. The meat is a little membranous, But delightfully soft and somewhat crunchy after it’s been on the fire for a few minutes. 

So, there you have it. My dinner. With a shot glass of soju, of course. Can’t have spicy food without soju.

I’m currently sitting on the KTX on my way to Busan, on the southern end of Korea and a good three hours’ ride. Busan is home to some amazing seafood; stay tuned to my Instagram for live updates.


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