Sanne: When I was visiting Ella in Korea, she took me to a traditional Korean seafood restaurant right across from Gijang Haenyeo Village. Haenyeo refers to the female divers who used to earn a living by diving for various sea delicacies, mainly around Jeju Island, but also at a few other locations in Korea.
According to Ella, you can still witness these female divers in action today, although their numbers have significantly decreased. While I’m not sure that our dinner was sourced by female divers, everything we had tasted incredibly fresh and delicious, as if it had just been plucked from the sea.
We had octopus, mussels, and a range of other, unfamiliar treats including Gaebul, which is also known as penis fish because of..well, obvious reasons. Before we delve into the culinary aspects, let’s talk about what Gaebul actually is. Gaebul, scientifically known as Urechis unicinctus, is a marine worm that inhabits the coastal waters of Korea, Japan, and China. It’s long, cylindrical, and has an uncanny resemblance to a certain male anatomy, which has earned it the colloquial name “penis fish.” But don’t let its appearance deter you; there’s more to Gaebul than meets the eye.
In Korea, Gaebul holds a special place in the culinary tradition, and its consumption dates back centuries. It’s considered a delicacy and is often enjoyed raw, showcasing the country’s love for fresh and unique seafood. Gaebul is often found in coastal regions, particularly during the winter months, when it’s at its prime.
Preparing Gaebul is an art in itself. The worms are typically harvested by hand, a process that requires great skill. After harvesting, the Gaebul is thoroughly cleaned to remove sand and debris. It’s then sliced open to remove the intestines and cleaned again, leaving only the succulent flesh. The cleaned Gaebul is often served fresh, sometimes wriggling on the plate, to demonstrate its freshness.
So, what does Gaebul taste like? Well, it’s a taste that’s challenging to describe accurately. I would say it’s like a mix between clams and octopus, with a slightly briny, oceanic flavor, and it tastes delicious. The texture is soft and slightly chewy, and it’s best enjoyed when sliced into thin strips. It’s often served with dipping sauces, such as soy sauce and vinegar or gochujang, to enhance the overall taste.