TAIPEI: A 14-legged giant isopod is the highlight of a new dish at a ramen restaurant in Taipei and it has people queuing up - both for pictures and for a bite from this bowl of noodles.
Since the The Ramen Boy launched the limited-edition noodle bowl on May 22, declaring in a social media post that it had "finally got this dream ingredient", more than 100 people have joined a waiting list to dine at the restaurant.
"It is so attractive because of its appearance - it looks very cute," said the 37-year-old owner of the restaurant, who wanted to be identified only as Mr Hu, as he held up the giant isopod while customers took pictures.
"As for the cooking method, we use the simplest way, steam, so there is no difficulty to process it."
The restaurant steams the isopod for 10 minutes before adding it to the top of a bowl of ramen with thick chicken and fish broth. Each bowl costs 1,480 Taiwan dollars (US$48).
A customer said the meat tastes like a cross between crab and lobster with a dense texture and some chewiness.
Giant isopods - a distant cousin of crabs and prawns - are the largest among the thousands of species in the crustacean group, the NOAA Ocean Exploration said on its website.
They are usually found about 170m to 2,140m deep in the ocean, with 80 per cent of them living at a depth of 365m to 730m, Taiwan's Animal Planet said in a Facebook page.
A Taiwanese expert identified the species as "Bathynomus jamesi", discovered near the Dongsha islands on the South China Sea. They are thought to be caught at between 300m to 500m.
Since the ramen launched, some scholars have expressed concerns over the potential ecological impact of bottom trawling fishing tactics as well as possible health risks.
But customers at the restaurant disagree.
"If it's just a special menu, and the giant isopods were caught unintentionally like the restaurant owner says they were, everyone should try it if they get a chance," said 34-year-old Digell Huang, who works as a genetic counsellor.
"I am very honoured to have this opportunity to taste it," she added as she ate from a bowl of the isopod-topped noodle.
A scholar, however, warned against potential health risks, saying the largely unknown species may contain toxins or heavy metal such as mercury.
The Bathynomus jamesi species was recognised officially in Taiwan last year and there is not much data on it, said Huang Ming-chih, a biotechnology associate professor specialising in deep-sea invertebrates at the National University of Tainan.
"The best practice would be to do more research ... build a complete database and then allow people to eat, it would be better that way," he added.