Send to

Korean delicacy of live octopus leads to choking death of 82-year-old

Oct. 24, 2023 - 15:00 By Moon Ki Hoon

Sannakji -- octopus seasoned with salt and sesame oil and served while still squirming – is among South Korea's most notorious delicacies. The local dish shot to global infamy thanks to an iconic scene from 2004's "Oldboy," where Choi Min-sik's character devours a whole wriggling octopus alive at a sushi bar.

Numerous videos on YouTube show fearless foreign tourists trying sannakji in Korea’s local fish markets, highlighting the cuisine’s enduring cult popularity. But eating "live octopus" -- as sannakji can be translated -- comes with serious risks.

On Monday, an 82-year-old man choked to death while eating sannakji in the southern city of Gwangju, according to the Gwangju Gwangsan Fire Station. First responders arrived on the scene after an emergency call at approximately 11:38 a.m., but were unable to resuscitate the man, who was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The incident is not without precedent in the country. According to data from Seoul Fire and Disaster Headquarters, three individuals died of asphyxiation from eating live octopus between 2007 and 2012. Two further deaths were recorded in 2013, and another incident took place in 2019 involving a man in his 70s, local news reports show.

These occasional fatalities have led several Western media outlets to rank sannakji among the world's most dangerous foods, alongside the likes of poisonous pufferfish and bullfrogs.

For those daring to try the dish, it is best to slice the tentacles into smaller pieces and go easy on the booze, as intoxication can increase the risk of choking.