Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sea Worm Jelly

Though it may sound unappetizing, most translators end up calling Xiamen's 土笋冻 (tŭ sŭn dòng) “sea worm jelly.” Perhaps you think this is a colorful euphemism, or a lost-in-translation moment. In fact, sea worm jelly is exactly what this is.

The primary ingredients are sipunculid worms harvested from shallow water and muddy beaches on the coast of Fujian.

Here's what they look like. Photo credit: Wikimedia User:Vmenkov

A bunch of these worms are boiled, which releases a slimy collagen into the water that functions similarly to pectin. As the water cools, it is poured into small molds to set like gelatin. A short while later you’ve got small, firm, wiggly mounds of cloudy yellow-gray gelatin in which are suspended long, white worm carcasses. Before you receive a bowl of tŭ sŭn dòng, the vendor will cover it with some combination of chili sauce, mustard, wasabi, soy sauce, vinegar, and cilantro to give it some strong flavors. So what does sea worm jelly taste like, I hear you asking? Frankly, not too much on its own. It tastes and feels like cool, smooth, unflavored (albeit mildly sour and briny) gelatin with some slightly chunkier textures within. The real flavor comes from the sauces on top, which can give it a powerful, sinus-clearing kick. One of the joys of street food is finding truly novel things to eat, and a gelatin made from boiled worms dug up from beach mud is likely to be mightily novel for most people. For a uniquely local street food experience, you really can’t go wrong with tŭ sŭn dòng.


Unknown said...

I'm SO GLAD your food adventure hasn't stopped yet because I haven't been to China in 2 years and THIS IS MAKING ME WANNA GO BACK. I genuinely love the way you type and your descriptions, but no matter how much I love your blog, NOTHING CAN MAKE ME NOT THINK THOSE SEA WORMS ARE GROSS. I literally found your blog 2 hours ago and I just think sometimes that MAYBE we have enough animals in the world to eat to not have to go trawling for gross slimy sea worms HAHA - Best wishes :D (NEVER STOP)

Frank Kasell said...

Hi, Nancay! Thanks for the comments on this and other articles. Your enthusiasm for this stuff is great. On the subject of sea worms, they do look gross but I admire the ingenuity of the person (or people) who found a use for them one day long ago.

Anonymous said...

I was recently in Xiamen, and tried sea worm jelly(or rather tried to eat.) After stuffing a couple of big spoons of jelly in my mouth, I realized that he taste is no better than the looks of it...

It´s always fun to try new dishes tho!

I could not get any(english) explanation what it was, so I am glad I found tis page.

Interesting reading! Thank you!

Rùidian rén

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