Snacking on Creepy Crawlers in Beijing!
Eating Bugs on Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing, China – Round 2!
Happy Halloween! We’ve seen the spider web cupcakes, gummy worms in chocolate cookie crumbs and bug shaped cookies, but how about the real thing? Welcome to Follow Me Foodie to eating bugs in Beijing… round 2! Wait. What?! Round 2?! When was round 1? And why is there a round 2?! I thought eating bugs was a “try it once” kind of thing… if at all!? Well so did I, but when in Rome…
So yes. This is my second time eating bugs… well third to be specific, but second time since I started Follow Me Foodie. Actually fourth! I forgot about trying crickets at a Mexican restaurant once; however, I barely counted that as a true “bug experience”. It’s a bit too “safe” and “ordinary” in the world of eating bugs. But if you’re curious to see my first encounter trying meal worms, water beetles, and bee cocoons – see my post and videos here. I actually tried those in Hong Kong which is not that common there, but Beijing was a whole new story.
It was Follow Me Foodie to Beijing and my host introduced me to Wangfujing Street in the Dongcheng District of Beijing. I had read about this street in the past and it’s one of the most famous shopping streets there. You can buy clothing, accessories and all sorts of things, and the food and restaurant part of the street is known as Wangfujing Snack Street. However if you’re looking for a night market of street food then check out Donghuamen Night Market, which is unique on its own.
Donghuamen Night Market and Wangfujing Snack Street offer common and exotic street food with some Chinese specialities and delicacies. The food is on display at both markets and they are very popular for tourists and locals. Most of it is raw food which is grilled, fried, or tossed in a wok upon order. You don’t necessarily have to have an adventurous appetite to appreciate the food stalls here and it’s worth checking out regardless. There are things like candied fruit on a stick and chicken satay, but for the most part it would be considered a bit foreign.
As I mentioned in Follow Me Foodie to Beijing it’s an “eat everything, waste nothing” culture. With over a billion people to feed and a country that wasn’t wealthy until recently, people had to learn to eat everything. It makes sense doesn’t it? The food isn’t “weird”, but just different and unusual to a North American or Western palate. I was prepared to step outside of my cultural perspective in search for dinner at Donghuamen Night Market. So what was I up for?
Alright so what do we have here? Enoki mushrooms, sausages, lotus root, deep fried tofu, fish balls, artificial crab meat, quail eggs, broccoli, pork’s blood and fresh Chinese veggies. Many of the stalls serve food on a stick and specialize in satay or wok fried items. These offerings were still a bit too close to home for me and I was feeling more adventurous.
Now this is looking a bit more like it. We’re getting warmer. But wait that just looks like raw squid, baby octopus, and some raw meats waiting to be grilled… it’s not that adventurous at all… moving on.
And there we go. This was the stall I was looking for. It was by no means hard to find since several stalls offered it, but this one seemed to have a good variety. Yes, these are bugs. Trays and trays of bugs.
Entomophagy is the consumption of insects as food, and this was what I came to “practice” at Donghuamen Night Market. Many developing countries still eat insects and they provide a good source of protein, nutrients and minerals. In North America we tend to get these from other food sources, but if you compare the nutritional value of some insects to beef, chicken, or fish, the insects can reign supreme.
In the last year there has been an increased interest in the study of entomophagy. People and even some influential celebrity chefs consider it a sustainable way of eating. It takes less energy and resources to raise insects than it does to raise animals, so there is a niche market that supports the idea especially for the future.
Personally I don’t see a North American culture indulging in a plate of bugs anytime soon, but we seem okay with consuming GMO products… so who knows? Many insects are healthier and safer than the GMO’s America eats on a daily basis… so who’s laughing now? Anyway I don’t know enough about entomophagy to get into it, but the studies and research are fascinating.
As neutral and culturally respectful as I want to be with this post, it’s hard to do. I hate “ew-ing” food and being grossed out by food I haven’t even tried, but it’s a bit normal to do so when it comes to things you don’t want anywhere near your food.
I come from a culture where we more or less kill insects and not because we want to eat them. It’s a cultural difference and perspective that’s hard to step away from. So while I want to be calm about my exploration of bugs, it would be a bloody lie to tell you I wasn’t nervous. To be honest I was nervous-excited.
Now back to my dinner. I guess I could have gone “buffet”, but I decided to order a la carte. I have a big appetite, but not really for this.
Scorpion, Sheep Whip, Parasites and Black Spiders… geez I didn’t even know where to start! I was looking for a combo on rice. There were so many options! I didn’t really want to try them all, but where to begin?
So how about The Scorpion King? Pass. Been there, done that. In Thailand. It tasted like egg shells since it was fried to a crisp and the majority of it was hollow. At times it tasted like shrimp paste when I got to the pastier tail. Next.
Silkworm Chrysalis? It looked too “normal”. I already tried their poop at the silk worm factory in Beijing. Also, the water beetles I ate in Hong Kong were scarier… I’ll leave this for the amateurs.
I just want to show you the silk worm poo. I visited a silk factory in Beijing and during the educational portion I learned that their poop was healthy. I tried a pellet which was the size of a tiny pebble. It’s completely dried and it tasted a bit like crunchy dirt. It was a feather in the hat experience.
Gah! Okay now I was starting to get a bit uncomfortable… they looked like baby rats. I’ve seen these bugs in real life and they make a lot of noise. These Cicadas looked really big. I didn’t think I was ready to try these yet. Perhaps a tamer bug that’s less plump and meaty. I didn’t want a mushy bug. I would rather a crunchy one. I didn’t even know if these were mushy, but they looked like they could be.
I have no idea what this was, but it looked like a thick rat tail meets a snake. It could have been a whipworm, but I’m guessing. It didn’t creep me out that much though. I mean it didn’t look appetizing, but I wanted something that would make me feel the “right degree of uncomfortable” and this was a bit mild.
Another mystery bug… but I’m going with crickets? Yeah these looked pretty freaky and they were pretty big again. For some reason they reminded me of Broadway dancers from Chicago with their ballerina legs. I wanted to put mini top hats and bow ties on them. They were a bit intense for me to try though, so maybe something slightly more approachable.
So how about these? These looked like the meal worms I ate, but bigger… I wanted to step it up and push myself a bit further. Something more intimidating please.
And here we go. This made me “the right amount” of nervous and uncomfortable. It made my skin crawl and was more intense than the bugs I ate in Hong Kong… I’ll take one please.
To be honest, I really hate bugs… of any kind. Even butterflies and lady bugs unless they come in cartoons or glitter. They all make my skin crawl, but in this context it was which bug makes my skin crawl the least? And which one the most? Inside I was freaking out, but on the outside I kept it cool and I was pretty excited. It was all adrenaline rush and then the tourists start gathering around and watching, and at this point you have to jump off the plane.
I expected to stop at the centipede, but a fellow traveller who I kind of dragged into this experience still hadn’t made his choice. I didn’t really “drag him into it”, but he had things to prove to friends at home. It helps to have a side kick, although I would have done it regardless. So what did he choose?
@#$%. ;lnfa;lfn;aldnf;alkn!!!!! Nooooo! He wasn’t supposed to choose this! There was no way I was going to try this! I clearly saw them, but my eyes kept darting away from them. I was avoiding this tray like the plague. I didn’t think I would have the guts to try them. It was the only tray I vetoed in my head right away.
“Really?! The spider??!” That was my response. It certainly grossed me out the most, but part of me was glad he chose it. There was no way in hell I was going to, but I wanted to try it. I have major arachnophobia and I usually squeal at the tiniest spider, but when you’re in the moment… it’s all adrenaline.
I ended up ordering one of these as well. I think this could have been a Sheep Whip, Whipworm or something along those lines, but I’m not sure. Even when it comes to bugs I get “order happy”. The owner of the stall recommended it and at this point I was in a “what the hell” mood… it couldn’t get any worse than the one I was avoiding the most which was the black spider.
He grabbed a stick of centipede, a stick of black spider, and a stick of whipworm and threw them in a giant fryer. No batter.
These whipworms were pointless. I couldn’t even chew them. They were as firm and as hard as rope. I didn’t even know how people would eat them. I honestly wouldn’t be able to separate this from a rubber rope or bone in texture.
So what did it taste like? It tasted like dried spaghetti noodles. They fry them to a crisp so they really tasted like nothing. The centipede just tasted like a bunch of shells. There was no mushiness, creaminess, chewiness or texture besides crispy and a bit crunchy. It actually could have used a sprinkle of salt because the flavour was completely neutral.
Next up was the black spider. You can’t really see it, but I’m eating it. That facial expression is pure panic on the inside. It took me a few seconds to take a bite of the spider. I say “seconds” and not “minutes” because I realized the longer I waited the worst it got. If I thought about what I was actually doing, the more the adrenaline rush was running out and the more nervous I was getting.
The spider had more texture and flavour than the centipede. It was still fried to a crisp, but I could feel its hairy legs and that grossed me out. Even thinking back I get creeped out and have no idea how I did it.
The texture was almost like hairy fries. It was sort of crisp and dry more so than it was crunchy. Since it was deep fried there was little to no moisture, but the inside was a bit mushy once you got to the plumper body. The legs were a bit mushy and soft too since they were thicker than the centipede legs.
To be honest I didn’t have much of the body… I took a bite of the legs and then a tiny bite of the body. The mushiness and creaminess of the body tasted almost like shrimp paste, but it didn’t have much of a distinct flavour. It was maybe a bit mucky… and that was enough for me. I almost drank a bottle of mouthwash and brushed and flossed like crazy after.
Don’t get too caught off by all the bugs and exotic foods I showed you. The food stalls on Donghuamen Night Market are worth checking out and I hope I didn’t scare you off. Even if you don’t try anything it’s visually intriguing and easily entertaining.
Location: Donghuamen Night Market is located in the northern end of Wangfujing in Beijing, China. Dong Hua Men Avenue, West of Wang Fu Jing Avenue, Beijing 100005, China. Dong Hua Men is written 东华门, the name of the East Gate of the Forbidden City (Wiki).
Photo credit: Josh Chung.