Last week, The Ramen Boy, a popular ramen restaurant in Taipei launched a new dish named “Giant Isopod Ramen in Creamy Chicken Broth.” The restaurant’s innovative dish sparked heated discussions on the internet, with ramen fans fervently sharing their thoughts on what this deep-sea creature might taste like. While many may not dare to try it, they are certainly curious to find out more about it.  

What is a giant isopod?

According to information on Wikipedia, a giant isopod is “any of the almost 20 species of large isopods (crustaceans distantly related to shrimp and crabs, which are decapods) in the genus Bathynomus.” Adult isopods are generally between 19cm to 37cm long and can live up to 40 to 60 years. They have large triangular compound eyes, which comprise 4000 small eyes. 

Giant isopods live in dark waters at depths of 170m to 2140m, with 80% of them living at depths of 365m to 730m. The first Bathynomus species was found in the Gulf of Mexico and was documented by French zoologist Alphonse Milne-Edwards in 1879. The discovery caused quite a stir at the time, as most scientists did not believe organisms could survive in the deep ocean. For those who did, revelation of the giant isopod led to substantial progress in their research. 

A familiar character in Japanese anime

Although it looks like a fictional character out of a sci-fi movie, the giant isopod may not be all that unfamiliar to fans of Japanese anime. In fact, this deep-sea animal has made several appearances in Japanese films and TV series. 

In the anime TV series Gintama (Silver Soul), the character Shinpachi accidentally kisses a giant isopod called Miss Pandemonium. Since this is his first kiss, Shinpachi suddenly develops biological filtering lenses, and sees the strange creature as a cute-looking girl.

To everyone else around him, Miss Pandemonium is a terrifying giant creature. 

A similar plot appears in the manga series Shinkai Rendezvous (Deep Sea Rendezvous), in which the main character Futami meets a beautiful girl in the deep sea. Once he brings her to the surface of the sea, a love relationship quickly develops. This romance is condemned by family and friends as all they see is Futami being affectionate with a giant isopod instead of a young girl.

In Hayao Miyazaki’s animation film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the Ohmu species was created based on the prototype of the giant isopod. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, in which the land previously destroyed by humans has turned into a Toxic Jungle. 

Free from human infestation, the environment becomes filled with mutated plants as toxic substances become the foundation of fertile soil. The Ohmu species are giant isopods that live in symbiosis with the Toxic Jungle. 

When human beings try to destroy the Toxic Jungle, the angry Ohmu swarm to battle against those who threaten their habitat. Although humans see the giant isopods as enemies and pests, the Ohmu see themselves as guardians of the Jungle - their role is to stop ignorant humans from meddling and destroying the natural cycle of life. 

Miyazaki once said in an interview: “When we first conceptualized the film, my view veered towards the extinction point of view, but by the time we completed the film, I sided with the coexistence perspective. Human beings can’t be too arrogant. We must realize that we are just one of the many species living on this planet.”

Does the giant isopod taste good?

People who have tried the giant isopod say that it tastes similar to crabs and prawns. However, it has not become a popular catch among fishermen, probably because there is not much meat and the innards can have a strong bitter taste. 

In Taiwan, the Bathynomus doederleinii is sometimes accidentally caught with other fishes from bottom trawling. It is similar in appearance and texture to the giant isopod, and is sometimes served in seafood restaurants along the northern coast of Taiwan.

The recent craze surrounding giant isopods has not only caught the attention of ramen fans, but is also drawing concerns from ecology and conservation experts. Since the Bathynomus species inhabit the benthic zone of the ocean, they need to be caught through deep-sea bottom trawling, a fishing practice extremely destructive to marine ecology. 

Ecology experts worry that other restaurants will follow suit in creating new dishes using this rare species, hailed as the “dream ingredient” by The Ramen Boy. This would inadvertently drive up prices. And, if market demand increases, fishermen are bound to resort to bottom trawling. 

Although it’s too early to tell, experts are urging the public to not get carried away by the fad. Expanding one’s culinary horizons can do wonders, but gaining awareness on marine conservation, environmental protection, and preservation of ecosystems is far more rewarding.

The article first appeared on every little d. Translation is by Grace Weng.

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TNL Editor: TJ Ting (@thenewslensintl)

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