Mid last year, whilst galavanting around the islands of Croatia and Greece, I became acutely interested in the little black spiked creatures of the sea around there.
“What are they?”
“They’re a plant, no?”
“That’s a creature?”
“What a scary looking creature!”
“People eat them?”
“Back pedal again, people eat them???”
Endless Google searches, conversations, and gross staring competitions later, I was just as confused and even more terrified of these practically dormant little terrors of the sea.
I first heard of these creatures at a cliff bar in Dubrovnik. I was ecstatic at the bar find and we sat and drank heavy white wine with the view of the most incredible sunset I had ever seen. The deep Croatian waters, speckled with islands and pirate looking boats, being overtaken by the firing red sky. We were on the outside of the walls, which we climbed down narrow stairs to find, and there, nestled atop big stone slabs and concrete, was a bar. Most of this fortress town is atop this stone and concrete straight in to the sea, which is apparently where some of these little ocean dwellers like to live. We struck conversation with a British couple next to us and they told the story of a man at their hotel. He had been swimming in the hotel’s beach and as he went to step on the little pier with all his weight, he landed right on top of a little black spiked sea monster. A sea urchin. He had spikes coming out of his feet for days and was having to use olive oil to try and persuade the prickles out. I made a mental note then and there to watch my step everywhere.
Only a few hours, but several wines later, we’re swimming in the black of the night off the old town piers. I did not touch the ground in fear of my feet becoming victim to these little monster urchins.
I first noticed them visually on the island of Korčula. We’d just sat down in awe of the sea surrounding us, the blues and greens a live and thrilling watercolour being painted before our eyes. A glass of wine melted in to the next and the peculiar black round truffle looking creatures could be spotted through the crystal clear waters.
Korčula is also a walled town on a much smaller island, and the outskirts of it has been extended on from the natural islands shape. Piers and rocks being placed all around, plus the still waters of the Adriadic sea, the perfect breeding ground for these little bottom dwelling algae eaters.
I was put off swimming in so many locations due to my new found fear and hatred of these little things. They followed us to Hvar and then on to Mykonos in Greece, and although I swam a bit, I was always more hesitant when they were around. As my reluctance grew, so did my intruige.
People eat these freaking things?
Whilst sharing my new found obsession of sea urchin with my other half, he pointed out that they’re a delicacy in New Zealand. Back to Google and it is true, not just the crazy Kiwi’s are hoeing in to these bad girls! It seemed only natural to take my weird little interest in these creatures, and add it to a bucket list? Makes perfect sense.
I didn’t really plan how I was going to actually find sea urchin to eat here in Perth, but from almost day 1 of 30 before thirty, I had been researching! My best bet being Japanese restaurants, or the Kiwi shop, it seemed.
I toyed with the idea of donning my swimsuit and fishing for a few of these bad girls myself, but was quickly reminded internally about just how I reacted when in the ocean with these things. Shuddering, I let go of the idea.
Japanese restaurants were a good option but also not guaranteed. Email after email returned saying “Please call to discuss your requirements”. “We do not serve Uni (sea urchin) at our restaurant any more”.
One night, I am given the contact details of a seafood dude that used to sell to a guy my other half works with. A friend of a friend of a friend type thing. I contact Garry at a place called Squiddlies Seafoods (http://www.squiddlies.com) and long story short, he orders me fresh Kina roe and it’ll be in within the week. You little legend Gaz.
This little tub of grossness sits in my fridge for another week, and then the time comes to bite the bullet and get it done. Relatively easy tick now that the urchin is here and ready to go..
I open the tub and pull a couple of the roe out. I can’t help but notice how much they resemble little tongues, and my stomach starts to churn at the idea of putting this inside my mouth willingly. I stare at them. And stare. And stare. And look away. And almost decide I can’t do it. Matter was definitely over mind and it was stuck on the absolute grossness of what I had willed myself to do. I can’t blame anyone else for putting this on my list but myself. Geez Erin, you’re such a bitch!
I held this piece of sea urchin guts on my fork for over 5 minutes. 5 gloriously filmed minutes. Dont worry, the last 60 seconds or so of it will be shared on Facebook, check it out.
As I finally just put that piece of oddly yellow colour rubbery flesh in to my mouth, chewed once, chewed twice, and gulped it down, I was unable to keep my feet still. If you can imagine what an oyster tastes like, one that is so fresh from the ocean that the salty, seawatery goodness just takes it to a new level, and then times it by about infinity… Except, then you minus out the freshness of the oyster, and the lightness of the pearl creating creature, and you might be able to imagine what it was like to eat sea urchin roe. The texture is thick and chewy, but oddly soft at the same time. It really seems like there is no flavour at all except sea water. 10 seconds pass by and that flavour increases 10 fold and almost suffocates you whilst travelling down your esophagus. As you will see in the video, I declare that it isn’t actually that bad, before dry wrenching at the after taste.
Would I eat it again? Well, I never say never, but I would only do it fresh from the ocean, which apparently isn’t that bad.
I am happy, I am another tick down, meaning I’ve hit the double digits and well on my way to annihilating the bucket list!
I am also ECSTATIC that there are no more eating related challenges on this bucket list.
Oh, and a side note, they are tongues. Those gross little spiked bastards have 5 tongues and I ate one. Part of one. I am glad I didn’t know that before.
*shivers in disgust*
I am off to eat something much tastier, like dirt.