Banned — Sannakji: the Asphyxiation Octopus

A Renaissance Writer
5 min readApr 3, 2020

There are few things in the world that I would not eat. I’m fairly adventurous and there has yet to be anything in this Banned series that I wouldn’t have tried (though the blood clams I’d eat would most definitely not be from China). Sannakji is where I draw the line — I like my food to stay still on my plate.

What is Sannakji?

Put simply, Sannakji is live octopus. In actuality, it’s a little more complex than that.

Records show that Sannakji has been consumed since the Three Kingdoms period of Korea, as early as 57 BC. It is made from nakji, the Korean common Octopus, sometimes translated to ‘baby octopus’, because of their small size. This translation adds an extra layer of discomfort for the casual observer so it should be noted that Sannakji is not ‘baby octopus’, and ‘small octopus’ may be more accurate when the context is considered.

The preparation of Sannakji appears to have remained unchanged since the early Three Kingdoms: it is eaten raw. Raw may actually be a bit of an understatement. Steak Tartare, minced beef or horse, topped with raw egg, is a raw dish. Sannakji is not only raw, it is alive. Sannakji is considered a type of Ikizukuri, a Japanese term that means prepared alive.

It is prepared as follows. Firstly, the octopus is squeezed to remove the mucus within (it is said to give the octopus a foul taste if consumed), the head is then cut off, often being butterflied first and then severed. The legs are then chopped into pieces, followed by the head, which is served alongside them. The legs will continue to move while on the diner’s plate, and are often served with ginger, sesame oil and sesame seeds.

Having just read that, you may be wondering how anything could be considered ‘alive’ after all that. The complexities of Octopus biology are difficult, especially when it comes to their brains. They have very highly developed nervous systems and one of the highest brains to body mass ratios of any invertebrate (and many vertebrates too). Only about a third of their neurons are contained in their brain, the rest are contained…

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A Renaissance Writer

I love all things Italian Renaissance, cooking and writing. I can often be found reading, drinking espresso and working on too many things at once