Let’s face it, sashimi is best when the fish is freshly dead.
But have you ever had a sashimi play mind games on you?
Just last week, I took a couple of friends with me on what would be our most adventurous dining experience ever…to eat Baby Octopus Sashimi. I had heard, read, and also watched plenty of You Tubevideos on eating baby octopus sashimi, but never in my wildest dreams would I ever experience dining on the very meal that has taunted my curiosity.
It all started about two months ago when I sent an email to a group of Foodie friends, whom I discerningly thought would be “easy game” in taking this plunge into the deep unknown with me. Our destination would be a Korean restaurant somewhere in the Koreatown community of the Los Angeles area that specialized in “live seafood” sushi and sashimi. Unbeknownst to me, I received many strange email replies from my friends. I thought they would find this dinner a rather unique and amusing dining experience to stick in their resume. Instead, the responses of were of great disgust like “Yuck, I would never do it.” Or, “You have got to be kidding me! Or, “I’m passing on this one, because I ain’t that brave.” I also received a surprising response (which I say is my all-time favorite one), but I’m keeping it under wraps for the sake of privacy. I eventually found the two enthusiastic, adventurous friends who were just as eager as me to try baby octopus sashimi. As for the emails of disgust; well, I can only laugh about the difference in perception.
I have always been a huge fan of eating sushi and sashimi since I was a little kid. And through the years, I’ve dined in many Japanese and Korean Sushi Bars; where I tried the absolute worse and best of this specialty cuisine. I love all sushi rolls and the simple hand rolls. The typical fusion rolls that are stuffed with a variety of raw fish and deep fried like tempura are also among my favorites to eat including the big bowl of Chirashi when I have those “once in a while” urges. But, my all-time favorite happens to be sashimi; the serving of only raw fish with no Nori (Seaweed) and no sushi rice.
An important tip when dining at a live seafood restaurant is to inspect the overall quality of the tanks and to observe the over crowding of the seafood. Basically, a live seafood restaurant serves the seafood straight out of an in-house aquarium. In other words, the seafood is fished out of the aquarium and taken to the kitchen to be prepared. So, imagine the process like going on a fishing trip, catching the fish, and preparing the meal in an instant. There isn’t any more to it and the process to prepare the fish is not inhumane either.
So, you ask “Why live seafood sashimi?” Well, my appreciation for sashimi is pretty deep. I have a respect for the fisheries who catch the fish and an equal respect for the chefs who prepare the meal. Most sushi bars nowadays are cutting costs by purchasing fish and freezing their product in an attempt to stretch their inventory and to save money. I perfectly understand this practice; however, I just hate tasting a fish and then finding that proper procedures were not followed to prevent the freezer burn. I especially hate finding that a defrosted fish is being masked with lots of lemon juice and rice wine vinegar to hide the “previously frozen” taste. Frozen fish is also gosh darn awful to eat, because the texture of the fish is a little on the gummy side. Thus, my reason for choosing fresh live seafood, because it is superior quality. Besides, I am a Purist; therefore, I want nothing other than unadulterated, fresh fish.
My friends and I arrived at restaurant in Koreatown with the enthusiasm like little kids in a candy store for the first time. The language barrier was a little difficult at first, but luckily, we were able to find a couple of wait staff who were fluent in English to answer our questions about the menu. We ordered the $79 Medium Live Seafood Special Combination, which was more than enough food for 3 to 4 people. We had a good 14 or more courses of live seafood sashimi and other cooked Korean seafood delicacies. We were assured that this combination was the best choice to try every live seafood that the restaurant offers.
Each dinner course was truly amazing. The sashimi boat was filled with abalone, sea squirt, an abalone intestine, and a cooked and raw squid. I wasn’t too thrilled with the sea eel, because boney cartilage and no meat were just not my thing. The presentation of the sea urchin was quite beautiful, because it was served on its own half shell. Unfortunately, I didn’t like sea urchin, because it was mixed with sushi rice which, I felt ruined the dish. Sea urchin is like the “pate of the sea” so, why the heck would you mix it with the rice?!?!? The live halibut was one of the best tasting that I’ve had; light in texture and in taste. The mackerel with the yellow roe was refreshingly better in the raw versus its cooked version. During the middle of our dinner course, I thought to myself that I could really get spoiled with this wonderful live seafood sashimi. We’re dining like royalty, because it truly was a lot of food served. My gosh, even the raw oysters were deliciously fresh and amazing.
Before the cooked seafood courses came out of the kitchen, we were finally served the baby octopus sashimi. We giggled both in delight and in a nervous fear. We were having such a good time enjoying our feast, then second thoughts slapped us into consciousness when we saw that the tentacles were still moving! It’s moving on my chopsticks! Over and over, I kept telling myself, “This is insane! This is absolutely insane!” Talk about serious mind games on a dish that is freshly dead yet still moving! The tentacles and suction cups are still moving! Oh my god! This is mind blowing.
Together, my friends and I placed a piece of baby octopus sashimi on our tongues. At first, your instincts is to chew it so fast just to keep it from moving. We laughed at each other, then we realized that neither one of us bothered to really taste the quality of the octopus. So, we did it a second time together. The second time around we kept the piece of baby octopus sashimi on tongue for a much longer time to analyze. It is a weird slow motion, tingling sensation. You feel the tiny suction cups grabbing to the tip of your tongue or to the side of your mouth. Suddenly, one of my friends flinched and roared in fright. I screamed too, because I kept thinking the worse case scenario like, “This sucker is going to bite back at me!” Well, it didn’t, because the baby octopus really is dead. Sorry to say it so bluntly, but the thousands of nerve endings in its highly complex central nervous system just hasn’t reached the rest of the nerve endings to tell them that it’s dead.
Anyway, as you can tell by now, I survived the Baby Octopus Sashimi. It was actually very, very, very delicious with a nice soft texture. It also tastes much better raw than it is cooked. Would I do it again to re-live the adventure to eat it? Yes, absolutely. Care to join me?