Vengeance against jellyfish more rubbery than sweet

Israelis fantasize about taking revenge on venomous sea creatures by eating them, but efforts prove tasteless.

Fried jellyfish marinated in rice vinegar and soy sauce 370 (photo credit: Ptitim)
Fried jellyfish marinated in rice vinegar and soy sauce 370
(photo credit: Ptitim)
Every year Israelis take refuge from the sweltering summer heat in the cool waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and almost every year, swarms of jellyfish whose tentacles pack a painful – though rarely lethal – sting show up to spoil the party.
To the dismay of would-be bathers, forced to stay on dry land, this season’s blooms have already periodically blanketed the country’s coast. Now, some Israelis are proposing a curious new way of fighting the jellyfish invasion: Eating them.
“The time for revenge has come!” declared Gal in a recipe for fried jellyfish with water chestnuts and mushrooms he posted on his Ptitim food blog.
“I made a meal of one of the most hated creatures of the summer – because there’s no way I’m going to cook a mosquito or a French tourist.”
Gal, who preferred not to provide his surname, said his recipe went online this time last year but that it recently regained popularity on Facebook –about the same time that the jellyfish reappeared on Israel’s coasts– receiving over 1,500 “likes.”
“It was hot and humid and the jellyfish arrived,” he said via phone last week, explaining his inspiration for the unusual gelatinous dish. “I cook seasonal and local foods and this posed a particular culinary challenge. So I did a little reading and learned how to cook them.”
Preparing a jellyfish is a laborious and potentially dangerous process if done incorrectly.
Gal harvested a few specimens in good condition from a beach near his house using thick rubber gloves and took them to his kitchen. There, he separated the bells from the venomous tentacles and washed them in hot and cold water several times, cleaning them of sand and bacteria. He then diced the rubbery remains into thin strips and tried them raw.
Revenge may be sweet in theory but in practice the slices turned out to be too rubbery, so he further marinated the morsels in rice vinegar and soy sauce and fried them for a more satisfactory result, though this was still far from ideal.
“It was a great experience, but they are tasteless,” concluded Gal, who said he will not be trying the dish again soon.
“It’s like eating flip-flops.”
Jellyfish are a relative newcomer to the Mediterranean.
They arrived from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal when it opened in the late 19th century and have since spread far and wide, from the Nile Delta to the Strait of Gibraltar. The most common type of jellyfish in this part of the world is Rhopilema nomadica, an evolutionary primitive white blob of water and little protein.
Because jellyfish are comparitively new to the region they are ignored by Mediterranean cuisines, which otherwise make a feast of almost any edible creature including snails and barnacles. Some crafty Israeli salesmen are said to have looked into exporting the superfluous catch to Japan, where they are commonly consumed, but the Japanese would not bite.
Apparently, they prefer a local Asian variety over the Mediterranean kind.
In Israel, the market for the oldest form of multi-organ animals as a food is limited because, lacking fins and scales, they are not kosher. Still, a few bold attempts to introduce jellyfish into the Israeli diet have been made. Carpaccio Bar, a restaurant in Tel Aviv, started importing dried jellyfish from Japan in 2009 and served them to patrons for two years.
“A regular customer who worked in Japan told us it was easy to bring it to Israel,” said Yotam Doktor, one of the restaurant’s co-owners. “The Carpaccio Bar specializes in raw foods so we thought it was worth trying.”
Some clients came especially to try the exotic dish but eventually it did not catch on and was removed from the menu this year. “It just isn’t tasty,” said Doktor.
He remembers one unfortunate occasion where complications of having the rare dish on his menu left him feeling a bit stung. “A regular came to the restaurant especially to try our jellyfish, but we had just run out,” he recalled.
So Doktor and two co-owners spread out along the Mediterranean coast hoping to come back with a bounty of the usually ubiquitous creatures, but, much to their chagrin, they came back empty handed.
“It was the peak season, the middle of August,” an exasperated Doktor said, “and there wasn’t a jellyfish in sight.”