The Endless Road Trip — San Diego’s Top 10 Eats: 5. Live Uni
Being on the east coast, I never really eat uni. Most of my experience with the creature that is the sea urchin came from my freshman year of college, when I was a
slave intern to a senior research project, and had to inject urchins with hydrochloric acid to make them…do something (I promptly switched my major after that semester).
On our first day in San Diego it was recommended that we try the fresh, live uni at the Little Italy Farmers Market. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d sure as hell never bought seafood at a farmers market, let alone eaten it there. Regardless, I was super excited for this. Sign me up. When we spotted Poppa’s Fresh Fish stand I was immediately intimidated. These spiky animals were at least 3 times the size of the urchins from the bio lab. (I’m not sure why I just assumed they’d be the same —-I’m pretty sure my university ordered those urchins from some weird biological animal supply company).
The whole uni stand operation seemed a lot less glamorous than I had hoped. The stand smelled like a fish market (obviously, what else would it smell like?) and I became appalled at the thought of eating there. But ESers don’t back down, and I definitely wasn’t going to say no. After watching the guys behind the stand clean some urchins and shuck some oysters….we ordered. And it began.
First, they put the live urchin in this vice like contraption that cracks its hard shell in half. Then, they pour water into each half of the shell and pick out all of the gooey, brown, inedible bits (the part that freaked me out the most), that are then deposited in that metal bucket After all is said and done, they handed the thing to us (when I say “us” I mean BS, I wasn’t getting near it yet) on a styrofoam plate. It was still moving:
Yep, those spikes were still wiggling around when we dug into it. We weren’t really sure what condiments to eat with it. There were a variety of hot sauces (sriracha!) and other things on the table, but after watching a few people eat them, we decided that we would just go with a squeeze of lime. I think I made BS take a bite first. I spooned some of the orange meat (is that what you call it, meat?) into my mouth expecting the worst, and was really surprised. Wonderfully surprised.
Instead of a fishy, slimy weird sea creature, uni was amazing. It wasn’t slimy at all — it tasted really meaty, and was velvety and smooth. I couldn’t believe how rich it was either — the lime was the perfect acidic accompaniment. Although I couldn’t imagine eating more than half of this thing. Okay, I could, but it would definitely feel like an indulgence. Like eating too much creme brulee or an entire wedge of brie instead of just a slice. ES lesson learned. Always eat what scares you, especially if it’s still moving.