A tiny story inspired by my trip to Seoul, South Korea back in 2017.
“Eat a live octopus!?”
“You want me to eat an octopus while it is still alive, flailing about with its tentacles?” I almost blanched! Tonight we had sworn to complete any challenge presented to us. God, I’m an idiot.
How did I get myself into this mess, I thought. My foot started a furious rhythm against the wooden floorboards, nervous energy. All four of us guys sat cross-legged, bare footed in a humid restaurant. It was packed with locals. I counted around forty pairs of shoes lined up at the entrance. The smells of the oceans and all kinds of new flavours wafted around me, one night in Seoul to experience as much as we could. It was Joey, the self-proclaimed world traveller, who’d thought of the fish markets. He’d seen videos of something he wanted us to try, but wanted it to be a surprise, “you’ll see when we get there, but remember you swore to do it!”
I don’t know why I agreed? A combination of too much Mekju and jet lag? Now the waiter had arrived with the doomed Cephalopods. They were small and dark against the plate as it was set down onto the table. “Octopi or octopuses?” I thought. A dozen facts dredged up to the surface of my mind: Octopuses are highly intelligent, octopuses can fit into tiny spaces, octopuses have brains in their tentacles…
“Alrighty Ben you’re up first, mate!” said Joey with a devilish smirk. He wore a fedora decorated with feathers along the band. A feather for each country he’d travelled, or so he reckoned. Asshole.
He tipped a bottle of soy sauce above the plate. The octopuses reacted to the sudden saltiness with a flamboyant writhing. I was sweating furiously! I poised my chopsticks above the smallest octopus and tried to grab it. By more good fortune than skill I managed to get it on the fourth attempt. It’s suckers entwining upwards around the chopsticks. I stopped thinking and shoved the creature into my mouth. No chewing. I felt it slip down my throat and felt a second of blissful relief. The boys all cheered.
And then I felt them, the suckers. My eyes bulged. I felt it coming up my throat, towards the back of my mouth. I couldn’t breathe. Sheer panic shot through me and all thoughts turned to death, death by octopus. I opened my mouth to scream but nothing. The boy’s faces turned from amusement to panic as they too realized what was happening. I felt the tentacles climb as the boy’s eyes turned towards my open mouth.
I looked down too and saw it. Two tentacles, then four, as the octopus climbed out of my mouth and PLOP onto the table before scurrying onto the floor and down a tiny crack in the floorboards. I couldn’t move. We all sat staring for what seemed like a lifetime before Joey slowly pushed the bowl of remaining octopus away from him “So uh, who’s up for getting illegal tattoos?”