(THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Though famous for raw fish, South Korea's seafood restaurants do not dish out only fish sashimi.
There are many more on the menu, including some that do not look mouth-watering, but prove to be unexpected delicacies.
Meongge is one of them. It is sea pineapple, a type of sea squirt, whose shape strongly resembles a grenade with small fiery-looking bumps. It is red and rubbery and, when squeezed, the bumps squirt out water.
As meongge is often farmed in the warm ocean bed, Tongyeong in South Gyeongsang province is famous for dishes featuring it. More than 70 per cent of meongge in South Korea originate here.
The creature is usually eaten raw and the rubbery coat does not play a big role in eating as it is fully removed when served. Diners get only the watery orange flesh, sliced into edible pieces. The texture is soft and slippery when put into the mouth.
When meongge is chewed, it emits a unique, marine fragrance. The taste is strong with a hint of bitterness, the aftertaste lingering on the palate for a while. It can be eaten with chilli paste, but to enhance the unique flavour and the scent, salted sesame oil sauce is recommended.
Sea cucumbers are another surprise treat.
Called "haesam" in Korean, meaning "ginseng of ocean", the name of the weirdly-shaped sea creature hints at its high nutritional value.
Haesam may look similar to a cucumber, but it is thicker and chewier. The black outer skin is shiny and sleek with bumps.
As the skin is not removed, the saltiness of the ocean (or at least of the water tanks at seafood restaurants) remains. Except for the saltiness, haesam does not have a definite taste or odour. But the hard yet soft texture, similar to the cartilage of pig or chicken, provides a great pleasure for foodies. In fact, the fresher the haesam is, the harder it will be to bite.
Like meongge, haesam is served raw.
It is difficult to grab the slippery pieces of haesam using chopsticks. The sea creature is usually enjoyed with chilli paste, as it has a relatively mild taste.