Strange foods: Eating Oricios

One of my main goals when I arrived in Asturias,  one of the seventeen communidades in Spain in the North, was to sample the local fare. Though thereare typical Spanish dishes that you can find all throughout Spain, each region offers their own speciality, unique to the region.  Spanish people are proud by nature, proud of their culture, and always very, very proud of their food.

I’m not the biggest researcher before a trip but knew enough that the renowned dish in Asturias is Fabada, a hearty bean and meat esque-stew. Our second night, while staying with a local Asturiana, she took us to a local bar in her barrio where we sampled some of the local dishes. Upon entering the packed restaurant, I scanned the tables to see what people were eating and noticed almost every table had blackish, round, and spiny carcasses piled high on silver platters. Oricios, in Asturiano and Erizo in Castellano…

 Sea Urchins.

 I’m not always as adventurous as I’d like to think I am with food but as you do in Rome, we ordered a platter of sea urchins and dug in.

We have oricios. We have sea urchins.

We have sea urchins.

One of the  beauties of living in Spain, as well as traveling, is discovering the various ways to eat different types of food and often having a moment of reflection that something you’ve never considered to be edible is considered delicious in  another culture. Before entered that local bar, I never thought of sea urchins as food humans may eat.  Did you know you could eat sea urchins?  Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to Asia where, from stories I’ve heard, that anything that moves seems to be skewered and roasted over a hot flame or if it comes from the sea, you can eat it. 

But sea urchins?  Prickly, purple and intersting sea creatures that have an important role in the food chain   Sea urchins have been part of Spanish gastronomy for centuries, as well as Japanese food and it’s no surprise since their borders hug the sea. In Spain, their are three different seas- the Medditterean splashes from the South East shore of Cadiz, along the Costa del Sol to the region of Catalonia before transitioning to the Cantabrica coast, Bay of Brisbay and the Atlantic. Despite the changes in oceans and water temperature, many of the regions in Spain consume Sea urchins as part of their gastronomy during the winter. 

How do they taste?

I was apprehensive. Sea urchins. En serio?  Being a very visual person sometimes gets in my way of jumping in and being eager to try something, well, different. In this case, something that doesn’t seem like it could or should be edible. The waiter saw my face and told me, “Don’t worry, you’ll like them. Try them.” I joked with him, “What if I don’t like them? I’m going to return them!” He smiled and insisted, “You’ll like them” and walked away.  I wondered how he could be so sure. Maybe because most of his customers are Asturians who look forward to Oricios season just like a child waits 364 days for Christmas. 

A platter of Oricios, sea urchins

A platter of Oricios, sea urchins. Appetizing, right?

 Our friend showed us how to scoop out the orange gonads- soft, almost fluffy texture. I put it in my mouth carefully and chewed but they almost melted in my mouth. Tastes of the sea overcame my senses. The texture wasn’t bad but there was an overwhelming taste of sea water.  I had a few,  slowly chewing and eating, meanwhile, my friends devoured them with gusto, there plates piled how with the prickly empty carcasses. 

Sea urchin gonads

Sea urchin gonads

The waiter passed by to ask how I liked them, and I said they were “alright” but when he passed by again and noticed I was dabbling with the gonads and  taking my time, he quickly swiped my plate (without asking if I was finished) and said, “I can tell you don’t care for them.”

And that was that.

My face always gives everything away.

A few days later, I passed by a restaurant that had a special of  scrambled eggs and sea urchins for lunch…

…but I kept on walking.

I’m happy to say I’ve tried Sea urchins but I likely won’t be ordering them again.

Have you tried Sea urchins before? Did you know they were edible?  Would you try them?

I’m curious to hear what you have to say. Please leave a comment below 

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22 thoughts on “Strange foods: Eating Oricios

    • Hi there!
      They’re common in Asturias in February and March. I never saw them in PV 🙂
      Exactly- Good memories. No need to try them again: )

  1. Pingback: Thank you | Roamingtheworld

  2. Hi, Lauren. It’s very funny your story about sea urchins. Even if I live in the North of Spain, I’ve never eaten sea urchins. The first time I saw sea urchins I was in Greace, thirty years ago, in summer, lying on a beach; into a little boat.on the sea there was a couple. The man sinked into the sea and he emerged with sea urchins. Then he offered them to the woman, they open them by a knife, put lemon inside and… direct to the mouth.

    • Hi Begoña,
      Thanks for reading and sharing your story. I can imagine the couple savoring the sea urchins fresh from the sea!

  3. Good on you for trying them though! I have to admit, even though I love seafood and I’m open to trying most new foods, I think I’d have a hard time with these.

    • Thanks Edna. Didn’t have too much time to ponder them as we walked into the restaurant, realized they were a local, seasonal specialty and soon we had our own portion to try! Sometimes the best way, not too much time to think about what I’m about to eat.

  4. I haven’t tried sea urchins, and after reading this I’m not sure I will! I did know you could eat them, but I’ve never seen them on a menu in Spain.

    They look kind of weird. Which part do you actually eat?

  5. I was walking along a seawall [maybe in Iraklion, Crete; maybe 1975] and a man who had gathered some sea urchins insisted I try one. I read your post above with apprehension, waiting for your description of the flavour, hoping that I didn’t miss the taste of a lifetime and was relieved to find that your response was exactly like mine. Tasted like drinking sea brine, straight up. I could get that by walking into the sea and accidentally gulping water! It’s wondrous the things we can decide are worth eating and then build a tradition around.

    • Definitely a local and authentic experience and for this I’m grateful I tried them. But yeah, you’re right about them being more of an appetizer than a main dish!

  6. Good for you for giving the sea urchins a whirl since they certainly do look suspicious. I’m glad you tried them ahead of my visit, lol, although I’d be curious to have a tiny taste.

    • Thanks mom,
      You may be in luck during your visit and may have a chance to try one. Don’t worry, though, there is more than plenty of weird and strange foods for you to try during your visit! Get ready for all things pig!

  7. I haven’t had that particular pleasure yet. I will try/eat anything. But I can certainly relate to your apprehension… I suspect the texture wouldn’t be quite to my liking. I think I might stick to carnes de caza of ‘my’ region 😉 Oh, and pulpo gallego. And squid in all its incarnations.

    • Ha!
      If you find yourself along the coast in winter you may have your chance to try them.
      This time around the texture wasn’t as bad as I thought but it was the salty sea taste that was a bit too much for me!

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