If you’re into bizarre seafood, you’d probably already know a Geoduck just from its physical reputation. Nicknamed the King Clam and scientifically referred to as Panope generosa, the Geoduck is a shellfish - with a long, meaty siphon extending from the shell and body. It’s the largest burrowing clam in the world, weighing up to 16 lbs (7.25 Kg).
When I first came across the creature, its name was written in front of me, and I spent the better half of a day calling it a ‘gee-oh-duck’. But those in the know will tell you it’s actually pronounced ‘gooey-duck’, coming from a Native North American Nisqually word meaning ‘dig deep’.
There’s no denying its phallic appearance - the long siphon serves as a feeder to suck in seawater, extract any nutrients and expel the remaining water back out. They also interestingly squirt seawater when they’re alarmed - a feature that goes over well with the more immature of us.
However, carrying this humorous reputation, many seafood lovers in the Western world are missing out on the Geoduck as a delicious meal. One look and it’s considered off-putting or inedible. But the Asian seafood market isn’t so quick to judge a book by its cover - in fact, in 2015, 90% of all harvested Geoducks in North America were sold directly to buyers in China and Hong Kong. High-end restaurants in China (where it’s known as the elephant clam) have been known to sell live imported Geoduck for up to US $300 each. And it’s currently this incredible demand in Asia that drives the Geoduck industry - the landed value of a Geoduck in North America is around US $10 per pound, whereas in China the same amount could sell for around US $150.
So why do Chinese people love it so much?
First of all, its appearance comes with the expected symbolic beliefs - it’s considered an aphrodisiac. Its flavour and texture profiles are also ideal for the Chinese palette - sweet, slick, slimy, chewy, crunchy all in one bite? To the Western mouth this might not sound appealing, but Chinese diners have a far more complicated palette and the Geoduck hits all the right notes.
There’s also the Geoduck’s associated ‘face’ value or status. In the West, if you’re trying to impress friends, business partners or celebrating you might open an expensive bottle of Champagne or wine. In China, the same is done but with food - particularly seafood. There’s a great deal of status attributed to you in China if you’re able to afford Geoduck (more so if you’re sharing it with friends) and in this sense your ‘face’ value goes up.
And why not? It’s a rare, exotic and delicious clam from the pristine waters of North America.