If you are a foreigner drinking with your friends in a restaurant in Korea and there are any Koreans in your group or working in the restaurant or in the general vicinity, chances are you will soon find yourself face to face with a live baby octopus. If you don’t know where this is going you need to watch the Korean movie Oldboy.
Basically don’t give the octopus a name, don’t grow attached to it, don’t even look at it too much. Just pick it up, open your mouth, push it in headfirst and swallow. That’s right, apparently you’re supposed to swallow it whole, making sure the tentacles don’t stick to your throat and suffocate you.
With this advice in mind I put the head of the octopus in my mouth and was getting ready to swallow when the tentacles started gripping my face, holding on for dear life. Clearly the little guy wasn’t going down without a fight. I made a quick decision to change my strategy and started to chew the crap out of his head. I figured if I killed him quickly, the suction cups would loosen their grip on my nose and my teeth and my cheeks.
Impressively, the octopus had a lot of fight in him; it seemed to take forever until he stopped struggling and in the meantime all the innards and juices and everything were squirting all over the inside of my mouth and running down my throat. Not surprisingly, it didn’t taste especially good.
By the time he stopped struggling, I had pretty much chewed up the whole thing anyway, so I peeled the suction cups off my face, chewed up and swallowed everything and washed it all down with a beer. Actually, beer is probably not the correct word. The closest thing you get in Korea is a foul-tasting, unknown liquid with a slight (very, very slight) beer flavor. Or, if you prefer your drinks without a beer flavor, most places also sell Budweiser.
Eating a live octopus in Korea is one of those things you try once for the experience, but there’s really no need to repeat it. Nevertheless, a few months later, I found myself in front of another little bowl of water with another little octopus swimming around in it. This time I didn’t even try swallowing him whole. Not as impressive to the Koreans I suppose, but much easier on me and the octopus.