I would like to tell you I ate octopus brains whole, skewered on a long stick, tasting of fire and wood and weird gelatinous things, while monkeys hopped around, screeching their approval, and my friends were doing funny dances around a bonfire. That would be an appropriate situation for eating something as totally freaky as octopus brains. Actually, forget the octopus. Whenever you decide to eat the brains of an animal, there should be funky fire dances and monkeys involved. And cue the Indiana Jones soundtrack, because this is an adventure.
But no, as far-fetched an experience as this was for me, the real deal went something like this: a grilled baby octopus resting on a bed of black olives, celery, and olive oil is set before my table of very sophisticated, beautiful, well-dressed friends. We all notice the head first..still attached to the body, a perfect circle filled with black gelatinous material that is conceivably where it held its last thought. It is attached to long, purple, stiff tentacles. It’s too real-looking for my taste. Like someone just set down a roast chicken with all the feathers still on. Am I supposed to eat that? I have a tenuous relationship with octopus…I don’t like the creepy appearance and I hate the sucker things on the tentacles. We stare at the octopus head, now neatly decapitated from the body by my friend Megan and resting on her clean white plate. We question the waiter. Is the brain a delicacy? Are we wrinkling our nose at something incredibly divine?
The answer is no. The waiter confirms that while the octopus brains are edible, they aren’t anything special. Upon a psuedo-dare from Megan, I cut off a piece. The taste is sort of like the rest of the octopus, but the texture…ewwww. It has the same problem as other gnarly food bits: a funky texture that is a bit too creamy, chewy salty. On the other hand, that’s just the way I would expect a brain to taste like. I have to imagine texture of creme brulee in order to swallow the brain, even though I’m only eating brains the size of a tic tac.
I realize that while I love food, I’m not an extreme adventure eater. My friend Suzanne, also at the table, admits she’s tried “white gelatinous stuff” at a restaurant in Japan, concurring it’s probably intestines. I wince. I’ve tried sweetbreads, liver, tongue, sea urchin. Honestly, none of it is anything I really enjoyed. It’s all part of what I dub Exoticus Culinarus. It’s the stuff you know you should try, just to cross it off your list. Once you’ve tried it you become part of a special, if unspoken of, club. You have eaten, therefore you know.