Monday, March 21, 2011

I ate something nasty.

Specifically, Styela clava.  Two weeks ago I encountered a new soup at lunch.  It was red, like it had a tomato base, and smelled questionable.  I fished around in the cauldron with the ladle and discovered it contained something I could not identify.  Something that looked kind of like an eyeball with warts all over it.  I thought "probably an animal?", couldn't get any further into the taxonomy, and decided not to eat it.  I asked a coworker what it was and she couldn't tell me more than that it came from the ocean.  She insisted it isn't an animal.  She also told me you have to be careful when eating it because it's full of fluid that squirts out when you bite it, possibly scalding the inside of your mouth.  I gagged a little.

This is Styela clava fresh from the sea.  I do not want to eat that.

Last week the same soup was served again.  Word had gone round that I was put off by the warty sea creature.  Worse, I was in line next to Chortle, and as it happens this vile thing is not just a Korean delicacy:  it's also Chortle's favorite food.  I sighed inwardly and resigned myself to eating one in order to score Culture Points.

A pile of Styela clava ready for cooking.  This is turning my stomach right now.
In Korea this tumescent abomination is called 미더덕 and the favored English translation is "warty sea squirt," a thoroughly apt label that efficiently summarizes arguments against eating the knobby thing.  An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it represents.  What do you call a name that tastes like what it names?  I don't know, but let me just say that "warty sea squirt" is definitely one of those.

Boiling makes it no more appetizing.  This could only be less sexy if it were fermented and/or pickled.
You don't really eat the warty sea squirt.  It's too leathery to masticate.  You just bite it and swallow the juices that blast out.  Chortle drained like 10 of them, pausing to savor the viscous flavor explosion of each one before adding its flaccid husk to the carcass pile on her tray. 

One was sufficient for myself.  What did it taste like?  Hard to say; it's like trying to define replace without saying replace.  I'll just say it tasted like a hermaphroditic tunicate filled with fluid and something hard in the middle, so if you're curious you can just imagine trying to eat a waterlogged human thumb what's been tanned and boiled to shoe-leather.

Quail eggs and kimchi pancakes for lunch today, though.  Not bad.

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