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Penis Fish (Gaebul): South Korea’s Genital-Shaped Delicacy

Penis Fish (Gaebul): South Korea’s Genital-Shaped Delicacy

Penis Fish phallic sea creature is typically eaten raw by South Koreans and served with a savoury sauce made of sesame oil, salt, or a spicier dip.

Gaebul is the Korean word for a rather odd-looking fish eaten in South Korea which translates as ‘penis fish’. And while it may look like a somewhat unappetising male genital, it’s actually a popular delicacy throughout the country.

The fish’s real scientific name is Urechis unicinctus and its other not-so-scientific name is the fat innkeeper worm! Try not to wiggle while you eat this unusual wiggly creature.

Origin of the Penis Fish

Gaebul or ‘penis fish’ is a traditional and popular snack in South Korea. Seeing gaebul for the first time is very unusual and intriguing because of its appearance.

Because of its pinkish to brown appearance, it made a huge resemblance to the male private part. Hence, the name ‘penis fish’.

A joke was once also thought that gaebul resembles a dog’s genitals, so the worm was named after those Korean words. Because of its phallic shape, it has also been known to be an aphrodisiac.  

The penis fish is not actually a fish but a particular species of marine spoon worm. The scientific name is Urechis Unicinctus, which is also known as fat innkeeper worm that is primarily found in East Asian countries, like Japan, South Korea, and China.

Penis Fish (Gaebul): South Korea’s Genital-Shaped Delicacy 1
Photo Credit: J. Patrick Fischer

Before anyone can devour it, it also lived a life that helps other animals something to eat. It usually creates a U-shaped tunnel for small crabs and fishes. 

Apart from giving them something to live in, the fat innkeeper worm also gives them its leftover. How adorable is that?

The penis fish in South Korea is mainly caught on the west and southwest coast of the country. This is because the mudflats in those areas are plentiful than those compared to the East Sea.

These fat innkeeper worms grow from 10 to 30 centimetres in length and are very tedious to harvest. It is sold all year round, but most harvests are done during the cold months of October to February.

How to Cook the Penis Fish

Typically, penis fish is served sliced and eaten raw. It also comes with a serving of their savoury sauce, which usually includes sesame oil and salt or a spicier sauce made with vinegar and gochujang.

The preparation process can be as tedious as harvesting it. To prepare it, you would need to take out its intestines.

Not many people are fond of it as it gushes out scarlet blood. After taking out the intestines, they should be chopped up then serve. 

Gaebul is very famous in many restaurants and even street corners in South Korea. If you don’t want the hassle of preparing it, try it at Noryanjin Fisheries Wholesale Market in Seoul as they prepare fresh penis fish.

Basically, Korean fish markets sell this, and you can request them to prepare it for you. If you want to try a less squirmy penis fish, other restaurants will prepare it by grilling on a skewer.

What Does Penis Fish Taste Like?

Gaebul itself doesn’t have a very distinct taste, except for its hint of sweetness. However, it is always prepared with a serving of its savoury sauce, made from sesame oil and salt or Korean chilli paste with vinegar. 

It is said that gaebul is tastier when it is rinsed with salt water as it gives it a sweeter and seafood-y taste to it. Unlike in restaurants where they usually rinse it with tap water, which makes the gaebul less sweet. 

So, if you’re up for the challenge, try eating this bizarre delicacy from South Korea! Here’s a clip of a person tasting it for the first time! 

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