Sea Urchins: Dalmatia’s Delicious Foot Stabbers

Joe Orovic

sea urchins
Tina Rokov

March the 8th, 2024 –  Watch your step! And for the love of God, don’t wear scuba shoes. Sea urchins aren’t at fault for stabbing you – you are.

Here’s everything you need to know about one of the Dalmatia’s prickliest residents, the sea urchin.

The local* grabbed a harpoon, walked up to the water’s edge and sized up his opportunity. “Aha” he said then speared into the water. (*left anonymous for legal reasons)

He pulled out the harpoon to reveal a sea urchin, its spines glistening in the late afternoon sun.

“What the hell are you going to do with that?” I asked, still a know-nothing teen scratching his left foot where a sea urchin left a few dozen keepsakes.

“I’m going to eat it!” he shouted then flicked off some needles and cracked open the inside.

He burrowed out the orange-pink contents with his index finger then tossed his head back and slurped them.

“Goes great with a glass of white wine!”

I’d thrown, raced and cursed sea urchins. But my young mind couldn’t comprehend… the prickly little balls were edible too?

Ah yes, the endless bounty of the Adriatic Sea. Where the same creature which stabs the arch of your foot and ruins your beach outing can double as a warm-up to a glass of wine.

During my childhood summers in Dalmatia, sea urchins were subjected to some twisted behavior, fueled by revenge. Because even the most devout and clean-mouthed people curse like drunken pirates when they step on an urchin, then spend the next few hours with a sewing needle and magnifying class, digging dagger-like spine tips out of their swollen foot.

And so we tortured the pointy little bastards to useful ends.

We used their insides for bait. Their inner shells were decorations and romantic little gifts you’d give to a girl you later discovered is your cousin.

We’d race them, leaving them a few meters away, waiting to see which urchin get back to the water first. It was the second-most boring competition I’d ever seen (the first is every ice hockey game ever).

A few years later, we’d throw them at each other. Little stabby grenades you’d have to gingerly lob underhand otherwise they’d pierce your own skin.

And all those acts were likely illegal — or at least should’ve been.

Sea urchins, we later learned, are as delicious as they are unavoidable here.

So perhaps a primer is due, yes? Here’s everything you need to know about sea urchins, or as the locals call them, ježevi.

Where to find sea urchins in Croatian waters

Sea urchins inhabit the rockier parts of Croatia’s coast, especially where limestone chunks have tumbled into the waters.

One can also find their larger, less-pointy brethren in deeper waters.

Locals have been fielding inane questions about urchins for some time, so let me answer them (yes, I’ve said the following sentences at one point in my life):

No, urchins cannot chase you. They’re very slow.

No, they do not dislodge and shoot straight up to attack you.

No, they do not bite.

No, they’re not deadly or all that poisonous.

No, I’ve never tried to use one of the spines as a toothpick.

No, you cannot stand atop a bunch of them if they’re really close together, like a nail bed. The physics of that idea doesn’t work.

And no, I’ve never put a sea urchin in my pants.

How To Avoid Them

Tourists and foreigners unwittingly commit what we locals consider high crimes against Dalmation-hood. Seemingly banal actions like: pinching your nose before jumping into the sea; wearing shorts and shoes yet not playing some sort of sport; or owning and riding a jet ski. These are all cardinal sins true Dalmatians will not commit.

But among these treacherous acts against our lovely coast, the gloriously heinous and most-mocked is a byproduct of sea urchin fear: water shoes, those sock-like foot condoms which make everyone look like a children’s drawing from the knees down. Or worse yet, water shoes’ perverted ugly cousins, jellies, those rubber-plastic torture devices parents deploy to ensure their children don’t escape the hell of uncomfortable footwear.

Yes, the Dalmatian coast contains many sharp rocks. Yes, the bottom may have sea anemones (which, for what it’s worth, cannot sting the soles of your feet). And yes, sea urchins can pierce the thickest of your skin if you step on them hard enough.

But please do not use any of these as an excuse to wear water shoes, Crocs, jellies, or any other aquatic footwear abomination while you’re swimming.

If you can control where you step, go barefoot.

“What about the sea urchins?!” you ask incredulously. Here’s a simple trick: if you’re in the water, don’t step on anything black.

Sea urchins are particularly fond of a wedging themselves between rocks, allowing them partial cover with the possibility of catching their next meal.

But to the person waddling their way to dry land, it’s hard to differentiate a sea urchin from a shadow or hole. As a result, many confuse the urchins for harmless gaps between the stones and get an unpleasant surprise.

It should be noted sea urchins are round, and many a tourist sporting water shoes ends up stepping right next to the urchin rather than on top of it. This means getting stabbed in the side of the foot.

So here’s a simple rule of thumb: make sure you can see where you’re about to place your foot.

Yes, sea urchins float — when they’ve died.

Can you eat sea urchins?


It’s easy to feel some skepticism when beholding the slimy orange-ish innards of a sea urchin. They don’t look particularly appetizing.

How do they taste? Like, well, the sea. The briny, clean-protein joy packed a single oyster, yet more potent.

Don’t be afraid to handle them either. A soft hand and minimal pressure will ensure the urchin doesn’t leave a spine in your finger. Be careful though.

There are many places which serve sea urchin. More on that in a moment though.

I stepped on a sea urchin! What do I do?!

Step one: Come to the crushing, humiliating conclusion that this your own fault and nobody else’s.

Step two: No, you should not have worn that pair of water shoes.

Step three: Try to void stepping on the stabbed foot, as it will only drive the tips of the spines deeper.

Step four: Soak your feet in hot water for up to an hour.

Step five: Get out the tweezers, a flashlight and start digging.

Step six: if there are any left in your feet, try soaking in vinegar for up to half an hour. This could soften them, bringing them too the surface. (Or wait a while and hope the spines find their way out on their own.)

Once you’ve removed all the spine tips, give your feet a nice wash and bask in the realisation that you survived. Just keep an eye out for any infections.

Can you catch sea urchins?

This unfortunately, like many things in Croatia, comes to a question of bureaucracy — and which ministry you ask. (You can get the full rundown on this mystery here).

The Environmental Protection Ministry issues annual permits which allow collecting certain wild species, including sea urchins, with no quantitative limits. The Agricultural Ministry effectively shrugs and suggests following the Environmental Ministries rules.

The fine print, however, is less-clear. Depending on the interpretation of the law, place and who is carrying it out, you effectively can take out anywhere from ten sea urchins for personal use to eight tons per zone if you have a concession.

This has all led to an alleged mad rush on sea urchins, with groups of divers filling whole basins in broad daylight and scampering off.

The bottom line: if you’re here visiting, don’t catch the sea urchins. (TCN cannot advocate or give advice on doing something’s it’s not even sure is legal).

Many restaurants up and down the coast serve sea urchin. As a conscientious consumer, ask your waiter where the urchins are collected. If the answer seems fishy or flippant, follow your conscience.

And watch where you step!


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