When you are enjoying a nice, frosty brew with your friends after a long day, or while watching the game, don’t you just want to gnaw on some desiccated mollusk flesh dipped in mayonnaise? You do if you’re in Korea!
In the States, the only consumers of cuttlefish may be parakeets (you know, the cuttlebone you’re supposed to put in their cages for them to nibble and rub their beaks on), but all over East Asia, cuttlefish is a very popular snack food for humans.
Despite the name, cuttlefish are actually mollusks, in the same class of marine Cephalopoda as squid and octopi.
The most popular way to eat it in Korea is dried, like jerky, often together with peanuts. It’s especially popular as an accompaniment to drinking beer or soju.
You see it everywhere: at street vendors’ carts, in convenience stores next to the chips, even at the concession stand at the movies.
The seasides are dotted with drying racks draped with the corpses of cuttlefish, and the markets are cluttered with stalls of vendors selling stacks of the flat, pressed product.
The way you eat it–at least, the way I was shown–is, if you can, you toast the dried cuttlefish over a flame and char it a little bit. Not very much, just enough to singe it slightly and give it a smoky note. (If you don’t have access to a flame to toast it, just skip this step.)
Then, you tear off thin shreds of the meat, like little ribbons, and dip it in mayonnaise first, then a chili sauce, and pop it in your mouth! Mmmmm-mmm!
Cuttlefish isn’t the only marine animal that people like to eat dried in this fashion. For example, dried octopus tentacles are also to be had in the markets, as are all manner of dried, pressed fish. But, cuttlefish is, by far, the most popular to munch on while you’re getting your buzz on with some good beer or soju.
Those of us with Western palates will probably jump to a conclusion about why it’s popular to eat while drinking; our tastebuds can have beer-goggles, too, after all! But, I was sober as a judge when I had it, and I enjoyed it. I thought it was savory and delicious, if a bit…cuttlefishy. But, then again, dip anything in enough mayonnaise and chili sauce and I’ll eat it and think it’s good.