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

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

Penis Fish is a phallic sea creature that is typically eaten raw by South Koreans and served with a savory sauce made of sesame oil.

Gaebul is the Korean word for the rather odd-looking fish 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.

Origin of the Penis Fish

Gaebul or ‘penis fish’ is a traditional and popular snack in South Korea. Because of its pinkish to brown appearance, it made a huge resemblance to the male private part. Hence, the name ‘penis fish’.

Many people also remark that gaebul resembles a dog’s genitals, so the worm was named after those Korean words. It is also sometimes considered 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

When it is alive, the penis fish usually creates a U-shaped tunnel for small crabs and fishes. Apart from giving them something to live in, it also gives them its leftover food to eat.

The penis fish 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.

They 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 savory 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. It is then chopped up and served. 

If you don’t want the hassle of preparing it, you can try it at Noryanjin Fisheries Wholesale Market in Seoul as they prepare fresh penis fish. Korean fish markets sell it raw but 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 a hint of sweetness. However, it is always prepared with a serving of its savory 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. 

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