Man Chokes to Death After Eating Live Octopus Dish

In a tragic incident in Gwangju, South Korea, an 82-year-old man lost his life following a heart attack induced by choking on a locally served octopus dish. This meal, known as san-nakji, is a well-known Korean delicacy featuring live octopus. The man was dining on this traditional Korean dish, which involves octopus tentacles that continue to move on the plate, when he began to choke. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was declared dead at a nearby hospital.

San-nakji has long been a point of culinary fascination and controversy. While the octopus is technically deceased when served, the preparation of the dish ensures that the tentacles are still twitching when presented to diners. The preparation process involves swiftly cutting the octopus before serving, leaving the nerves in the tentacles active. This creates the illusion of the creature being alive, a feature that both enthralls and unnerves those who dare to try it.

Apart from its sensational appeal, san-nakji has also gained notoriety for its risk factor. The tentacles, which are known to stick to surfaces due to their suction cups, can pose a choking hazard. The international spotlight shone on this dish following a scene in the 2004 South Korean film “Oldboy,” where the protagonist is shown consuming a live octopus. The danger associated with eating live octopus isn’t purely cinematic; several incidents over the years have underscored the real-life risks.

Between 2007 and 2019, multiple fatalities have been linked to the consumption of live octopus in South Korea. These incidents have often resulted from asphyxiation due to the octopus’ tentacles obstructing the airway. This has led to san-nakji being considered among some of the world’s most perilous foods, a category that includes other potentially lethal delicacies like pufferfish and certain bullfrogs.

Despite these dangers, the dish remains a sought-after experience for many culinary adventurers, including tourists seeking to experience local Korean cuisine in its most extreme form. The dish’s cultural significance and the thrill associated with eating something so unique continue to draw interest both locally and internationally. Even renowned chef Anthony Bourdain tried san-nakji in a 2015 episode of his series “Parts Unknown,” illustrating the widespread curiosity and intrigue surrounding this unusual dish.

The incident’s shock value was heightened by its connection to a notable legal case in South Korea. In 2012, a man was convicted for what was termed the “octopus murder” after he claimed his girlfriend’s death was an accident involving choking on san-nakji. He was initially sentenced to life in prison but was later acquitted by the Supreme Court for lack of evidence.

This latest death serves as a stark reminder of the risks associated with certain culinary adventures and raises questions about the safety measures in place for serving such challenging dishes. It highlights a unique intersection of culture, cuisine, and caution that characterizes some of the world’s most controversial gastronomic experiences.