A chance encounter at a Tokyo fish market fills us with intrigue/dread, and things don’t get any less scary when we tear it open.

While the concept of eating octopus can seem strange to many uninitiated western palates, here in Japan pretty much everyone, young and old, enjoys the eight-legged cephalopods. Octopus is a mainstay at sushi restaurants, and morsels of the sea creature are also at the core of takoyaki dumplings, one of Japan’s favorite snacks.

But octopus eggs are something we’ve never seen on a restaurant menu in Japan, or even in a Japanese supermarket, until last week.

We came across this unusual find at grocery store Yoshiike, next to Tokyo’s Okachimachi Station (about half-way between Akihabara and Ueno). Honestly, we’d never really thought about octopuses laying eggs, but there they were in Yoshiike’s seafood section, being offered at a price of 250 yen (US$2.35) per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).

The one we picked out was a hefty 400 grams (14..1 ounces), costing us 1,150 yen. Big enough that you’d need to use both palms to properly hold it, we leaned in for a closer look, noting its slimy outer surface and filmy membrane.

That membrane is remarkably durable, which makes sense since in the wild the eggs need to be able to withstand pointy seabed rocks and flowing ocean currents. Even after piercing it with a toothpick, it wasn’t like the covering peeled right off.

Still, this thing is way too big to stick into your mouth as-is and eat in one bite, so we kept at it, tugging here, there, and everywhere.

Finally, we managed to remove the membrane, which resulted in

a massive outflow of what looked like alien tentacles.

“Ahhhhhh! Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” shouted Seiji Nakazawa, our taste-tester. “I need backup!”

But as in space, in the SoraKitchen, no one can hear you scream (since admitting they did would mean they have to submit themselves to the same frightening food that you’re about to). After a few more shrieks of terror, Seiji gradually became aware of the fact that the “tentacles” were not moving. The relief that he was still the one going to be doing the devouring today helped him regain a portion of his composure, and so he gritted his teeth and picked up his chopsticks.

Grabbing a half-dozen or so of the things, he realized that what he’d initially thought was a single giant egg was actually an egg sack, containing a large number of oblong eggs. Their color was a milky white…or maybe a pale yellow? Anyway, they’re sort of translucent, but not entirely, and…well there really aren’t that many definitive statements you can make about their appearance, except that they’re scary.

▼ Seiji attempted to convince himself that they’re really not any more intimidating than bean sprouts (this attempt was unsuccessful).

According to a sign posted at Yoshiike, you don’t need to cook the octopus eggs. As for seasonings, the market recommends soy sauce, mixed with wasabi if you like, or a dash of ponzu sauce. Seiji opted for soy, and while this created a striking contrast in color, he’s not sure it’s what he’d call a feast for the eyes.

▼ So…a famine for the corneas?

But Seiji realized the longer he took to eat the octopus eggs, the longer he’d have to look at them (and, to be honest, he still wasn’t entirely convinced they weren’t looking right back at him). So he took a bite, and learned…

…that while he doesn’t like looking at octopus eggs, he loves eating them!

No joke. “When you bite into an egg, there’s a moment of elasticity before it goes ‘pop,’ and then a rich, creamy flavor flows out of it,” Seiji says. “It’s like eating ikura [salmon roe, a popular sushi topping], and doesn’t really taste like octopus.” However, the membrane, which is also edible, does have an octopus flavor to it. “It’s like eating a delicious hybrid of ikura and octopus, and I think I might even like it more than regular ikura.”

So in the end, Seiji was rewarded for his bravery/the rest of the staff’s cowardice by having all the octopus eggs by himself. That’s not something he would have thought of as a reward at the start of the day, but life, like seafood, is full of surprises.

Shop information
Yoshiike / 吉池
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Ueno 3-27-12
Open 9:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.

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