As the octopus’ severed head wiggled around on the plate, I knew what I had to do.

 

Our cooked and raw octopus feast at the nakji fisherman's house
Our cooked and raw octopus feast at the nakji fisherman’s house

 . . .

I picked up the octopus head, dropped it into my mouth and chewed for what seemed like hours.

With every bite, previously-undiscovered parts of its innards found their way onto my tongue.

Octopuses wriggling in the mud after being caught
Octopuses wriggling in the mud after being caught

Ink was dripping down my beard and, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t swallow.

It was pretty much the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten and if there were no TV cameras filming me, I probably would have spit it out.

But, in the end, I got it down and can add “eating a living octopus’ head” to the list of things I’ve tried and never need to do again!

So how did I get myself into this situation? Here’s the story…

 

Me and Jesse in our nakji-catching uniforms, ready to go to work
Me and Jesse in our nakji-catching uniforms, ready to go to work

. . .

Nakji are small octopuses that lives in mudflats by the ocean

Every morning, after the tide recedes, local Korean fishermen grab their shovels and head out into the mudflats.

Like trained detectives, these expert fishermen decide where to dig by looking for small holes or trails in the mud.

Upon finding one of these clues, they jam their shovel into the ground and begin digging as quickly as possible.

 

A nakji fisherman hard at work digging and searching for an octopus
A nakji fisherman hard at work digging and searching for an octopus

. . .

The Chase is On for Nakji

Like any animal with survival instinct, the octopus senses danger and begins to tunnel its way through the mud and away from the shovel.

It’s the nakji fisherman’s job to anticipate this movement and continue digging in the proper direction. Most times, the fisherman either catches the octopus or loses it within a minute or so.

On occasion, the hunt lasts longer and that’s when things really get exciting: at least for me.  This fisherman spent at least 5 minutes digging and left a trail of destruction in his wake.

After he successfully caught it, my costar, Jesse, nicknamed him the Nakji Terminator. The fisherman LOVED his new name.

 

It was totally worth digging this hole, as the Nakji Terminator caught an huge octopus that would probably net him $20.
It was totally worth digging this hole, as the Nakji Terminator caught an huge octopus that would probably net him $20.

 

The Nakji Terminator and Jesse being filmed for Get Lost in Korea
The Nakji Terminator and Jesse being filmed for Get Lost in Korea

 . . .

I caught an octopus with my bare hands … (and a shovel)

My first attempt at catching nakji was a complete failure and the fisherman stopped me after a few seconds. My digging technique was wrong and I immediately lost the octopus.

Later in the morning, I had another chance.

With the guidance of two expert nakji fishermen, I shoveled heavy loads of mud out of the ground in a zig-zag pattern.

My eight-legged pray was on the move and I was digging at speeds I didn’t know were possible.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I tossed a shovel-full of mud aside and saw a nakji wiggling in the bottom of my hole.

I reached in, grabbed the octopus with my hand, thrust it into the air in victory and let-loose a primal scream of “YEAAAAAAAAH!”

Out of everything we’ve filmed so far, this scene is the one I’m most excited to see.

 

The shovel I used to catch nakji
The shovel I used to catch nakji

. . .

We Barely Made it Back before the Tide Came In

After catching my nakji, the fishermen told us it was time to head back to the shore. The tide was quickly approaching and we had wandered out pretty far.

While walking, the fisherman began to explain something to me. Good thing I speak fluent hand gesture and facial expression; because my Korean is non-existent.

As I understood it, he said the water would reach my waist if we didn’t hurry up and get to the shore.

I also assumed he meant his waist. Being a solid foot taller than the fisherman, that would imply water up to my knees.

Turns out I was wrong on both counts, as I soon found myself trudging through hip-deep water before reaching the shore.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to take my camera out of my pocket before hitting the really deep part; both so it didn’t get ruined and so that I could take this comical video of the scene…

Jinseok Kang (Our cameraman), his assistant (Oyoung Kwon) and the fisherman (Jaesun Son) wading their way back to land
Jinseok Kang (Our cameraman), his assistant (Oyoung Kwon) and the fisherman (Jaesun Son) wading their way back to land

. . .

A Nakji BBQ on Dry Land

Having safely made it back to land, the fishermen prepared a lunch of nakji and ramen noodles for us.

They got a fire started a fire with newspaper, driftwood and plastic bottles and placed a pot from home on top of it. I guess this part was planned in advance, as I can’t imagine they have a BBQ every day after work.

. . .

Before tossing a live nakji into the boiling pot, they got me to take a bite of its still-moving tentacle. Surprisingly, it was pretty tasty; though, the suckers got stuck to my lip and the inside of my mouth.

Later, after cooking the meal, the fisherman pulled the boiled nakji head out of the soup and gave it to me to eat. The flavor was ok; but man-oh-man did it scald my mouth!

 

Using bamboo, newspaper and plastic bottles to cook an octopus and ramen snack
Using bamboo, newspaper and plastic bottles to cook an octopus and ramen snack

 

The najki farmers prepare an octopus BBQ
The najki farmers prepare an octopus BBQ

. . .

Our Nakji Fisherman Host

For two days, I had the honor of working alongside Jaesun Son: an incredibly kind local fisherman whom National Geographic Channel hired to be our guide.

When we first met him along the shores of the mudflats, Jesse and I were being eaten alive by little bugs. He immediately went into the woods, found a local plant called ssook, ground it up, squeezed the juice out and spread it all over our faces, arms and legs.

We probably could have done the spreading ourselves, but it made for better television to have him do it.

 

Jaesun Son grinds up and squeezes a local plant to serve as anti-bug lotion
Jaesun Son grinds up and squeezes a local plant to serve as anti-bug lotion

. . .

Back to the Fisherman’s House for a Nakji Feast

After our BBQ, we all returned to Mr. Son’s home to eat a traditional South Korean meal with his wife and mother. The featured ingredient was, you guessed it, nakji.

. . .

Well, that about brings us back to where we started; with me desperately trying to swallow a still-moving octopus head.

After successfully getting it down, we spent a bit more time chatting with Mr. Son and his family before saying a cheery goodbye and heading out to our next adventure.

 

Me and my nakji
Me and my nakji

 

The nakji fishermen's pants were of a much higher quality than the grandma pants Jesse and I were given
The nakji fishermen’s pants were of a much higher quality than the grandma pants Jesse and I were given

 

The Nakji Terminator - an octopus farmer on Aphae Island, South Korea
The Nakji Terminator – an octopus farmer on Aphae Island, South Korea

GET LOST IN KOREA


In 2013, I was hired by National Geographic to film a TV show in South Korea … following my adventures as a travel blogger and photographic storyteller.

The single-episode show offered a mix of humor, tradition, adventure and stunning imagery; as I teamed up with Jesse Day: a Canadian entertainer who lives in Seoul and raps in Korean.

Here are the highlights from filming Get Lost in Korea