Without wishing to resort to racial stereotyping, the Asians really do appear to eat absolutely anything. Oxfam run a programme in India that pays locals to capture rats that are then sold for food. In Vietnam, delicious baby mice are served up on a bed of ginger, garlic, coriander and rice. The Burmese are fond of settling down with a nice plateful of grilled bat, while birds’ nest soup (actually made from saliva) is an expensive delicacy in much of South-East Asia. Give a Filipino balut (the partially formed foetus of a baby bird, served warm from the shell), and you’ll have a friend for life, whilst north of Phnom Penh there’s no finer Cambodian hospitality than that which is accompanied by deep-fried tarantula.
China, of course, excels at this sort of thing – visit the night market a couple of blocks east of the Forbidden City and you’ll be confronted with stall after stall selling scorpion and sea horse, while Beijing also plays host to an internationally renowned penis restuarant: last time I was in town I tried to drum up support for a trip to sample its glandular gastronomy, but nobody took the bait, and I don’t think it’s the kind of place you want to be seen visiting unaccompanied.
The tail-end of the same trip found me in Seoul, where I followed esteemed food-blogger Noodlepie’s advice and visited Noryangjin Fish Market in search of freaky food. It’s an extraordinary place, 6000 square metres of space containing 700 shops stacked high with all the creatures of the sea – every possible variety of fish, crabs, octopus, squid, prawns, abalone, clams, oysters, giant pink sea slugs… the shopping list is endless. The market seems to contain enough food to feed the World’s hungry, but Seoul chomps its way through through this mountain of sea-meat each and every day. It’s genuinely staggering.
While I’d like to try a slice of raw monggae (a mottled red sack of soft flesh covered in acne-like spots, and apparently delicious), it’s only 6.30 in the morning and the first floor restaurants aren’t yet open. I wander the streets for a while in search of food, finally grabbing some snacks from a 7/11, and it’s here that I strike the mother-load.
At first glance it looks like an ordinary tin, but turn it round so the English translation is visible, and voila! Salvation in a tin.
Yep, it’s silkworm pupa. Seasoned with soy sauce and sugar. Sounds like some kind of heavenly nectar, right? I’m determined to find out, so I stow the wormy wonder in my hand luggage and return forthwith to the UK, where I open the tin.
It doesn’t look good. If anything, the pupa resemble miniature cockroaches that have had their legs and antennae removed, as if to streamline their appearance.
Raw, it doesn’t taste great. Not that I’m an expert on bug eating or anything, but it kind of tastes like you’d expect it to; a bit dusty, a bit husky, with bits that get stuck between your teeth and probably don’t digest too well. Your Koi carp might disagree, but I think it needs cooking.
Pizza is the answer. I rustle up a batch of dough, add a layer of tomato paste, sprinkle some grated mozzarella over the top, then carefully arrange some asparagus spears clock-style over the base. (Note: this artistic flourish gives the casual viewer the impression that I’ve laboured many hours over the recipe, and that my cooking skills have advanced to a point where the fine art of final presentation has become as important as flavour. This couldn’t be further from the truth, of course: all this arseing around merely disguises the fact that I’ve made no effort at all). Finally, the pupa are laid out in their cheesy graveyard.
Visually speaking, it’s an obvious triumph. The asparagus wheel draws the attention, while the silkworm pupa nestle cozily in the melted cheese, wilted and glistening. Breathlessly I steer a pizza cutter through my doughy prize, carving out a generous slice of Korean-Italian ecstasy.
It isn’t very nice. In fact, it’s quite nasty. So I throw away the pizza and eat some toast. With jam on it. Nice jam.
Mmmm, I like jam.
Yummy. We eat silkworms in Vietnam also, especially in the north where they are roasted with salt. True, Asian eat everything, except human being.
Maybe the trick is to eat them fresh, not out of a tin. Like oysters. Yummy fresh from the sea, but yeucky from a jar.
When I was in North China (near the korean border) we ate silkworm but we broke open the pupa and just ate the grub from the middle sorry i have no idea how (or if) they were cooked. The taste was pretty bland, I wouldn’t bother again.
The dog stew I had when I was there was absolutely delicious, one of the nicest foods I have eaten – although I wasn’t brave enough to go for the fried dogs paws on the table.
I had brought with me a jar of stilton for an ex pat and the chinese were absolutely horrified, more so than the english people I tell I ate dog. So they only appear to eat anything, anything dairy is very unusual.
I actually had a whole deep-fried tarantula in cambodia…it was quit nice…it tasted like fish!!
Chris, stilton and dog are not comparable, next time you should bring some South-East Asian prawn paste for your fellow Englishmen.
You have reminded me many many years ago, before this gourmet thing was popular, we had a department store in my town which had a food section with weird stuff from all over the world.
What sticks in my mind was a little tin of Fried Baby Bees, from Japan.
Anyone seen these lately?
i feel really ill.
Mmm… baby mice…
I’ve tried really, really hard to think of something witty and erudite to go with this post. All I can think of, however is: *boilk*
That mings. Having said that, my little brother was the local champion raw worm eater between the age 2-4 years. We used to squeeze the soil out spinkle a bit of sugar on them and he’d sit there munching all day. Untill mum found out that is.
That’s the only useful thing I picked up from that recent Paul Merton in China series – the expression “famine cuisine”, which basically means “we will eat anything”.
that worm pizza scares me, it does.
that balut thing you linked to seems particularly nauseating, though a Phillipino friend assures me that they ‘taste like chicken’… I think you should pick up one of those next….
…so I can live vicariously through your tendency to eat bizarre foods instead of trying one myself :)
Holy shit, Fraser – I wouldn’t like to get some exoskeleton stuck between my teeth while they are glued together with mozzarella, but it would certainly give the pizza some contrasting textures.
I suspect you’ve read ‘Fierce Food’? I was surprised to find foie gras, coconut, honeycomb, blood, uni and nettles were in there.
Wohoo I’m five years today!
Very glad you made it to the market Fraser. It really is a knockout. Glad you agree. Hope that next time you have time to eat there… and eat there good.
Oh Fraser, NO.
I mean srsly dude.
??? is a kids\’ snack, man. They can eat stuff that smells like urine quite happily. Though I suppose it probably isn\’t too far from anchovies after all.
I can’t believe you ate them!
it cerainly makes the British cuisine seem rather bland. The closest we get to the unual is black pudding!
I too have sampled the delights of silk worm larvae (or Bon-de-gi in korean) and it is one of the most disgusting things I have eaten.
I tried to bring the very same kind of tin home for my friends to try, only for NZ customs to confiscate it. I also tried the dog soup which I found very rich but quite tasty, but not as good as King Cobra in Vietnam, which was a cross between eel and ham.
As an Asian, I have had my share of unusual eats, but going to various Asian countries has opened my eyes to some othe eyebrow-raising tidbits, like grilled lizards on a stick in Singapore or squilla in the Hong Kong outdoor eating areas. Korea had me walking by a boiling kettle of what looked a lot like the silkworm pupas. Perhaps, a bit revolting to my palate; however, have you considered the life expectancy of Asians who live on these diets, especially before the Western diet was introduced there?
Hay que tener muchos cojones para comerse eso. Puajjjj
haha different cultures have different foods. some of their foods are taboo to us, but to them its just another product or food.
mmmm……bugs. The only way I’ll ever eat a bug is if it’s small, deep fried, and goes well with beer. I do wonder what do they do with the octopus’s body after they serve the legs…..hmmmm
It’s actually a matter of efficiency. When you produce silk, you also produce a lot of dead silkworms. You can either eat the silkworms directly, or you can compost them. Which works better?
Although, frankly, I’m quite disappointed with the taste of silkworms. After more than 5 thousand years of refinement, you’d imagine they’d figure out how to get them to taste decent.
what is the nutritive value of that one?
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