The Expensive Snail You Can Find At Costco In Korea

Because folks with a low capsaicin tolerance get distracted by Korean food's reputation for being some of the world's spiciest, and because Korean barbecue is delicious, it's easy to forget that Korea is home to many kinds of delicious seafood. This includes the much-sought-after abalone, a sea snail that is one of the world's most expensive shellfish.

Abalone is a delicacy found in warm seas around the world. Technically several species of marine snails with characteristic holes in their shell, iridescent interiors, and a distinctly ear-like shape that earned them the nickname "Venus's Ears," abalone's reputation as a luxury food comes not only from how increasingly rare they are but also because it is considered an extremely auspicious food to eat during Lunar New Year. 鲍鱼 (bào yú), Chinese for abalone, sounds the same as the words "guaranteed abundance."

This confluence of luxury and celebration leads to exorbitant prices. Over Lunar New Year 2019, Man Wah at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong charged an eye-watering HK$6,888 (US$880) per person for stewed whole Yoshihama abalone braised with chicken, Yunnan ham, and pork chop on the bone. So TikToker @erika.jeong was delighted to find fresh abalone for just $44 on a recent trip to Costco in Korea.

How to eat abalone

Understandably, many believe that if they're paying that much for an ingredient, they should eat it in as pure a way as possible. Abalone carpaccio, sashimi, and ceviche are all delicate ways to enjoy the unique taste and texture of this mollusk. However, you don't need to leave Costco for a thriftier, traditionally Korean, and comforting way to enjoy abalone.


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Jeonbokjuk is an abalone dish known as the "king of porridges." It's a soft, warming comfort food made with finely diced carrots and scallions. Although jeonbokjuk was once a rare delicacy because abalone is so expensive, this dish is available in Korean Costco food courts — right next to the hot dogs!

If you decide to try abalone, it is crucially important that you make sure you obtain it from a reputable source. Not only are there risks associated with undocumented seafood, but due to overfishing and habitat destruction, wild abalone are endangered worldwide, including all of the wild abalone on the West Coast. Though farmed abalones tend to be smaller than their wild cousins, they are the only sustainable option, and the quality is still excellent.