If you have ever snorkeled or dived, or even just swam along the corals, you know what a sea urchin looks like.
Called tayom in our language, it looks really scary, especially underwater. In the Coral Garden of Puerto Galera, you can see clumps of these monsters, their multicolored “eyes” daring you to get near and step on them.
I grew up in a small town with beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Whenever it’s low tide, all the corals are exposed, and people would walk for hundreds of meters, catching sea creatures who had been trapped in the shallow pools.
I remember that, as a child, I had already been petrified by the look of these sea urchins that I saw hiding in the corals. They looked ominous to me then, with their long and sharp spines and reflective spots I took as their eyes.
I had known a number of people who had been unlucky enough to step on them, although I was lucky enough to avoid their firsthand acquaintance.
Imagine my joy when I learned that people in our hometown enjoy eating the sea urchin raw! There was a storm when I went home for the holidays so I didn’t get to take photos, but according to my father, it is easy to catch a sea urchin.
First, you need a hook or a sturdy glove to pick one up and a basket to put them all together. When you have caught a few, shake the basket to break the spines. Then cut the sea urchin in half, rinse it in seawater, and then enjoy it fresh and raw! My father used to eat it with vinegar and salt, but he said that it is better eaten without.
While looking for pictures online, I realized that this is actually a delicacy in some countries. In Italy, for example, it’s called ricci di mare, while in Japan, it is called uni. They even cook it with pasta, or simply as sushi.
When I looked at their photos, though, their sea urchins are small, while those that I’ve seen in Puerto Galera are huge. Perhaps it’s due to the sex of those sea urchins? I have no idea!
Would I ever dare to eat a sea urchin? Perhaps, if the meat is already served to me in a platter. Otherwise, I would have nightmares just seeing its menacing spines.
If you have nothing against them, though, make sure to get a local to catch one for you. It’s said to be delicious! (Note that some species of sea urchins may be protected or may be found in protected areas. Catching, eating, or selling of protected species is against the law.)
Just remember, if you accidentally step on a sea urchin, don’t have someone pee on your foot, as is the commonly given advice. Here’s what to do:
- Remove the spines embedded in your foot.
- Pour vinegar in a small basin and soak your affected foot for some time.
- After the spines in the wound have dissolved, wash the affected area with anti-bacterial soap.
One thing I discovered about them is that they don’t actually have eyes as we know it. Probably the ones I see staring back at me underwater are the “light-sensitive molecules” on their spines. Knowing this hasn’t made me feel better about them though. Thinking about them lurking underwater still gives me the creeps!
How about you? Have you eaten a sea urchin in your travels?