Gotta fill up your bag, with the yellow and black
Keep your eye on the wave, don’t ever turn your back
‘Opihi Man in the sun. ‘Opihi Man grab your bag and run
‘Opihi Man another swell is coming your way
‘Opihi, Hawaii’s escargot
‘Opihi (limpet) have thick, cone-shaped shells covered by ridges. They have a pair of tentacles, a mouth, and a muscular foot that allows them to strongly seal their bodies to a rock to prevent being plucked off by a rough wave or person wanting to eat them. Although found on shore breaks across the globe, three species are endemic to Hawaii: black foot, yellow foot, and giant ‘opihi.
It can be an acquired taste, there are people who love it (hello!) and people who can’t stomach it. What does it taste like? The ocean, if it was crunchy. If you’ve never had it, it’s texture is kinda like an oyster, but with tougher and thicker skin that you chew through to get to the soft body inside.
Picking ‘opihi is not for “newbs”
People have risked their lives for this seafood delicacy. Do a quick Google search on opihi picking and you’ll find that it can be very dangerous–it’s been referred to as “the fish of death” and “delicacy of death”. Since they live in rough shore breaks, people get thrashed around by the surf, sometimes resulting in paralysis, drowning, other times getting swept out to sea and never returning. Rule #1: never turn on your back to the ocean.
But drowning isn’t the only thing you have to worry about when you’re out picking ‘opihi
When you want to go pick ‘opihi at a place you can’t walk to (like off a cliff) you have to go there by boat, anchor it off shore, swim in, and then tread water the entire time. My girlfriend’s Uncle from Lana’i was in the water picking opihi off a cliff when he suddenly felt something bite his leg and shake him. When he looked down to see what it was, he saw that an ulua had bit him! He estimated that it was at least a fifty pounder. Bit him so hard it even left a scar. In all my years of fishing and diving I have never heard of an ulua attacking a person, you are probably more likely to get bitten by a shark. But from his scar, you can tell that it really was an ulua by its teeth marks. Crazy, right?
For size, this is about a 20 pound ulua that a buddy caught the other night. This is its top jaw, see the teeth? Wouldn’t want that thing to bite me.
Hawaii’s supply has declined from overharvesting, especially on Oahu. When you do find someone who sells them they can jack the prices up to a $50 a pound with the shells on, which can add a lot of weight. It can get a lot higher when demand for it spikes, like during graduation season. Yet we are still willing to pay such prices to have them for our celebrations. I mean, what is a baby’s first luau without ‘opihi?
How to eat ‘opihi
Raw or grilled, but I prefer having it raw. To shuck the shell off you’ll need to wedge something (your thumb, a spoon, another ‘opihi) between the flesh of the ‘opihi and its shell. You can then use that empty shell to shuck the rest.
‘Opihi Poke Bowl
To make ‘opihi poke, you’ll need to chop up several ingredients and toss them altogether. If you don’t like the guts, you can squeeze them out before combining all ingredients. The salt water from the ‘opihi will be drawn out by the Hawaiian salt and will mesh together with the rest of the ingredients to form a slightly salty sauce.
- 1 pound 'opihi, shelled
- 1 tablespoon ogo, chopped
- 1 tablespoon green onion, thinly sliced
- Hawaiian chili pepper, thinly sliced, to taste
- Pinch of alae salt
- Combine all ingredients
- Optional: Let sit for about 30 minutes to let the flavors blend
- Serve over hot rice
- With poi
- Or straight up!