The Tops Don’t Sting You

Chinese people eat a lot of things.  Some things are questionable for environmental reasons, others, questionable in general.  But jellyfish (海蜇), what with its eerily gangly appearance and somewhat mixed reputation (thousand-tentacle sea monster or strangely pretty ocean lamps) might just be one of those foods that won’t make it mainstream in North America.

Jellyfish are scary.

Jellyfish are scary.

Whatever reservations a typical North American may have regarding the ingestion of these unique-looking creatures are not at all shared by the Chinese.  Jellyfish is actually quite popular. A common appetizer dish in the Guangdong region is sesame dressed jellyfish.  It is served cold before the hot main dishes, along side other cold meat items on a large plate, kind of like a platter of cold cuts.  The jellyfish is treated by discarding unnecessary parts like the gonads and then salted (the actual treatment process is incredibly lengthy and complex, so I won’t go into details here), eventually the jellyfish is more chewy and crunchy and will take on a yellowy colour the longer it is stored.  On the plate, the jellyfish is shredded and is usually dressed with a combination of sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce, and vinegar, though there are variations.  The generally flavourless jellyfish need not be cooked (though sometimes it is), and should offer an elastic, crunchy bite.  Incidentally, this distinct texture property is where the Cantonese colloquialism for jellyfish, “elastic band”, comes from.

Jellyfish served cold as a component of an appetizer platter - it is the yellowy mass in the centre.

Jellyfish served cold as a component of an appetizer platter - it is the yellowy mass in the centre.

And it’s not just the Chinese who enjoy these wispy, translucent animals.  The Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, to name a few, all happily feature them in their cusine, usually in cold appetizers.  A popular Korean rendition is haepari naengchae (해파리냉채), a jellyfish salad.  In Japan, they serve jellies in a similar fashion to that in China.  In fact, in East Asia, there are a few countries that don’t eat jellyfish!

Jellyfish are found in every ocean, and in every ocean strata.  However, it’s important to note that when Asians see ocean they don’t go on a ravenous feeding frenzy as not all the jellies in the sea are used for culinary purposes.  Only one order of jellyfish are harvested for food, the Rhizostomeae, and of this order, only around 10 species can be found on the market (typically East Asian markets).  Perhaps you’re wondering about the stingers.  Here’s the thing, many types of jellyfish don’t sting, and some don’t even have stingers, and for whatever reason (though I think common sense has a lot to do with it) the Rhizostomeae jellies that humans harvest don’t sting because they don’t have stingers.

An example of a Rhizostomeae jelly.  They're rather cute, really.

An example of a Rhizostomeae jelly. They're rather cute, really.

If you think the notion of eating jellyfish is absolutely revolting and those who enjoy eating these animals are seriously warped, then consider ingesting these floaty organisms for a more noble reason.  There is apparently quite the jellyfish overpopulation problem plaguing the Sea of Japan.  The Nomura.

Giant-jelly.

Not so cute.

Apparently, the number of  Nomuras swimming up from Chinese waters has increased dramatically, and it’s not only their number that’s worrisome, but their size as well.  They are said to rise from the East China Sea and Yellow Sea in swarms of billions, a slow haunting march of film-worthy monsters (see them in action, here).  Researchers are convinced that a combination of their unique reproductive behaviour and our contaminating and warming the ocean are major contributors to this anomalous phenomenon.

So, it looks like we need to intervene and reassert our position at the top of the food chain (something we’re undoubtedly used to) – tell your friends to start eating jellies, and not just the docile Rhizostomeae variety, but the 6.5 feet, 450 pound ocean behemoth types!  Now is the time to stomach your qualms and eat for the greater good (it’s quite the painless make-a-difference call to action really, considering what else is going on today)!

One last thing: did you know there was a town in Japan named Obama (小浜市, which literally means little beach town)?  They’re caramelizing giant jellyfish into candy is what I hear.

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