I didn’t know what the fuck a mantis shrimp was before I came to Japan. I am a lover of shrimp though. I have been for as long as I can remember. Be it the artery clogging Long John Silver’s popcorn shrimp or tossed delicately in angel hair pasta an any overpriced Italian restaurant, shrimp is a food that (I’ll be damned) I love.
Mantis shrimp are called shako in Japan and don’t really look like shrimp in my book. I mean… if I were to see a mantis shrimp and told to name it on the spot I’d probably go with “technicolor sea preying mantis” or something like that…
The first time I laid eyes on a mantis shrimp was on my dinner table one fall evening. I don’t know where half of my food comes from and I don’t really ask ever. These badasses caught my eye though, because they looked like some strange sort of alien bug that must have fallen out of a meteorite.
Now, I’m an adventurous soul. I was highly interested in marine biology when I was younger, but unknown to my parents and teachers my intense interest wasn’t fueled by curiosity or hopes to be a dolphin trainer. Marine life interested me because I had an insatiable curiosity and desire to eat sea creatures.
The first time I saw a mantis shrimp this is what I saw:
Yeah… well that’s what it felt like. What I actually saw was more like this:
For those of you who don’t know how incredibly awesome and terrifying mantis shrimp are let me educate you very quickly.
- Mantis shrimp’s eyes have 3 separate focal points and can see 13 more colors that our human eyes and brains can’t even comprehend.
- Mantis shrimp have arms that can bash in oysters and crab shells. They’re spring loaded and can strike with the force of a rifle shot, about 1500 Newtons, nearly 2500 times their body weight. They move so quickly that the water around them boils…
- Related, they have an exoskeleton that allows them to rifle punch through sea shells while superheating the water to create shockwaves.
Of course in Japan no sea creature is really safe. (Except for catfish and mahimahi for some strange reason.) I’ve not cooked these myself, but the way they’ve been served to me makes me believed their either boiled or steamed and then allowed to cool. They’re often served chilled.
The meat is soft and delicate. It has a lot of flavor that’s probably close to crayfish if I had to make a comparison. We typically eat it dipped in soy sauce or just on it’s own.
But eating these little bastards is like trying to eat evil. Like shrimp, the tail section is where most of the edible meat is. Once you get past the fact that these are some of the buggiest looking things that aren’t grasshoppers that you’ll ever eat, you have the unpleasant task of trying to get at that tail meat.
Peeling regular shrimp is a pain the ass, but not dangerous…usually. Peeling a mantis shrimp means you’re going to be stabbed repeatedly. If mantis shrimp were a Pokemon it’s body type would be SPIKES (and maybe DARK too.) You have to use a pair of scissors to cut the tail open, and the tail is where 99% of the mantis shrimp’s spikes are kept. There’s too many for me to keep track of and I’m always finding new mantis shrimp spikes as it’s lifeless body impales me. Short of using kevlar gloves your risk of injury while eating mantis shrimp is pretty much 100%.
For as awesome and deadly the mantis shrimp is the cold fact is this. A live mantis shrimp has never injured me whatsoever. The dead ones want my blood and have left me scarred (for a few days).