Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Why do many Koreans like to eat fish heads?

When you buy a fish at a supermarket in Korea, it usually comes with the head. Moreover, when cooking the fish, Koreans usually cook the whole fish, including the head. My ex-wife, who was Korean, was no exception. She always cooked the whole fish and always ate the head.

I used to think my ex-wife ate the head of the fish so that I could have more of the juicy parts. In other words, I thought she was sacrificing her taste buds for me. I have since learned that many Koreans consider the fish head to be a delicacy, which suggests that my ex-wife's fish-head eating may have been more of a selfish act than a sacrifice.

Today, I came across an old Chinese saying, which suggests that the heads of fish have long been considered a delicacy in Asia:

魚頭一味 (어두일미)
A fish's head is the most delicious

魚(어) - fish
頭(두) - head
一味(일미) - the most delicious


  1. One interesting question that comes up when there is a four-character expression in Korean made up of Sino-Korean parts is whether the expression is Chinese in origin or Korean in origin.

    魚頭一味 does not appear to be an old Chinese saying. So far as I can tell, it does not occur in any modern Chinese dictionaries, in any of the large dictionaries of Chinese four-character expressions, or in a corpus search of ancient Chinese texts. If you do a web search for "魚頭一味", only Korean-language pages come up.

    So it appears that 魚頭一味 is an expression of Korean invention, composed out of Sino-Korean pieces.

    In fact, it even appears that the meaning 'delicious' for 一味 is also Korean. I can't find evidence for this meaning in modern or classical Chinese. I suppose it's possible that it comes to Korean from Japanese.

  2. Lance Sleuthe,

    I did not spend much time researching this post. I came across the expression and quickly wrote the post before heading out to work. However, the expression was described as a 故事成語 in the article I read, so I assumed it came from China. I will look for more information on it, too.

    Nevertheless, Koreans seem to be quite familiar with the expression, and also have mentioned the following expression.

    The heads of a fish and the tails of animals (are the most delicious parts).

    I wonder if 魚頭一味 came from the above expression?


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