Gaebul is a traditional and very popular snack in South Korea. The first thing you thought when seeing Gaebul? Yes, you are right: its striking resemblance to the male sexual organ has earned it the widely used nickname ‘penis fish’. But not only its appearance has sexual connotations. Geabul as a dish is known and often especially consumed for its aphrodisiac effects as it is said to enhance men’s performance in bed.
But what is Gaebul?
Gaebul is a certain species of marine spoon worm which lives in the sand and mud on the sea ground. Apart from ‘penis fish’, it is widely referred to as ‘fat innkeeper worm’ since there are often other animals living inside the tunnels created by the worm. The phallic species reaches a length of 10 to 30 centimeters in length and has a pink to light brownish color.
Catching Urechis unicinctus mainly takes place on South Korea’s west coast. In this region, where the sea is especially shallow, vast tidal areas allow for an easier “harvest”. Although the process itself of finding and digging up Gaebul requires a good portion of dexterity and practice.
What does Gaebul taste like?
The main culinary characteristic of Gaebul is its very chewy texture. While the taste of the worm is rather neutral in the beginning, Koreans claim that the real flavor is released while chewing on it. The pink, wriggling seafood has a slightly salty and fishy taste, similar to that of clams. There is a surprisingly sweet note to it, especially when it has been freshly rinsed with sea water. Many people suggest that this sweetness is partly lost at restaurants that use tap water in the cleaning process.
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How to eat the seafood curiosity
Fresh Geabul can be found on markets all year round and is a common dish to order at restaurants. The bigger and chubbier they are, the higher the quality. While the worm is still alive, both ends are removed and it is cut into fine slices. Koreans usually eat Geabul raw – and still wriggling – together with sesame oil and salt or Gochujang. For everybody who doesn’t like the raw consistency, it is also possible to grill the spoon worm on a skewer.
As the strange-looking animal is also native to Japan, China and Russia, Gaebul can be found under different names in those cuisines as well. In China, various recipes make use of the genital-shaped worm as a special ingredient. Especially in the Shandong region, Geabul can often be found in dishes either stir-fried with vegetables, or dried as powder to be used as an umami enhancer.
You love discovering extraordinary delicacies like Gaebul? Then check out our collection of the most curious foods from around the world!
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Photos by Ryan Bodenstein