The sea offers a bounteous harvest – for those who are willing to consume it all, of course. Many Westerners would balk at eating anything slimy that lives on the sea floor or in the deep sea but, in various cultures around the world, you can certainly find people cooking up almost anything that lives in the ocean. From sea cucumbers to deep sea hagfish or even, yes, penis worms – these are three of the strangest seafood dishes you’ll find around the world.
The most commonly eaten of the marine animals on this list, most probably due to their sedentary nature and their relative abundance all over the world’s ocean floors, people have been harvesting sea cucumbers for food for thousands of years. The western name is taken from the French, Beche da Mere, which literally translates to Sea Cucumber. However, in the East Asian cultures they are most widely eaten in today they are often known by their Indonesian name – Trepang. Dried after harvesting and then boiled by the cook, sea cucumbers are hugely popular food in China, Hong Kong and Singapore. They are also valued in Malaysia for their medicinal properties, where they are dried and ground into pastes or powders. These can supposedly help with all sorts of ailments from stomach complaints to acne.
Innkeeper Worm or Penis Fish
Yes. People eat Penis Fish. More technically known by their genus name Urechis Unicinctus, these fleshy-coloured and tubular sand-dwelling worms dig u-shaped tunnels into the sea floor. They then secrete an oily mucus as they travel, which traps plankton and other microscopic sea animals – which the worm then sucks back into itself. And yes, they really do look like a male human reproductive organ. In Korea and Japan they are often eaten raw, sometimes with chilli paste or sesame flakes. In China, where they are known as the Fat Inkeeper Worm, they are usually fried with various vegetables. Not a fish your likely to find in your local chippy anytime soon though.
Legendarily slimy, these strange jawless fish are basically only eaten in Korea. Able to produce a bucketload of flowing, amorphous slime in less than a second, they are widely studied because of the strange molecular properties their protective emissions possess. They squirt it out when threatened, and it clogs the eyes, mouth and gills of any predators that attack them. Nevertheless, despite this slimy defence mechanism, hagfish are a popular food in certain parts of South Korea. Typical recipes involved removing the skin then frying them with spicy sauces and local vegetables. The skins, amazingly, can then be used to make clothing and accessories.
In fact, in 2017 a truck carrying a load of them to export to Korea crashed in Oregon, USA. With minutes the whole road, and several unlucky cars and their owners, were covered in a thick layer of hagfish mucus. Delicious!