Monday, February 23, 2009

The Wangfujing Challenge

Recently, Joel Eisen, a newly-arrived Fulbright professor, went out to the Wangfujing snack street here in Beijing and chowed down on some scorpion. Now, as a scorpion eater myself, I found Joel's action to be thoroughly palatable (pun intended). I also took it as an opportunity to up the ante, as it were, and make a return visit to Wangfujing, this time to have a go at something that has struck me all along as much more disgusting than scorpion.

We're talking silkworms here people...

Last fall, when the Ross crew was in town, my final decision was actually between scorpion and silkworm. In the end, the silkworms just appeared too big, bulbous, and potentially juicy, and so I went with the smaller, bonier scorpions. Good choice, as the scorpions themselves were actually not all that hard to eat. It was really the idea of munching on these biting, sometimes poisonous creatures that was hard to get around. Once that hurdle was cleared, the snacking itself was not all that bad (although I have not been inclined in any way to make scorpion a regular part of my diet!).

As for the silkworms, they were every bit as horrifying as I had imagined. The exo-skeleton (or whatever the outside part is called...Desi?) is actually pretty solid. What this means is that you really need to bite into the silkworm. Once you do this, all of the goo on the inside just kind of explodes in your mouth. I found this combination of a hard exterior and slimy inside to be just plain vile. On top of that, the taste was kind of like eating, I don't know, maybe hay or something bland and vaguely unpleasant like that.

For whatever reason, I forced myself ("forced" is indeed the operative word) to eat all four of the silkworms on my stick, much to the chagrin of Desi, who gagged and turned away whenever I took a bite. (I can imagine Grandma, the "queen of the gaggers" herself, heaving right now as she reads this!) Now, any ridiculous sense of pride I might have had at this "accomplishment" was washed away almost immediately when, as we continued walking down Wangfujing, I saw Chinese person after Chinese person wolfing down silkworms like they were big, brown peanut M&Ms.

In the end, though, the only person I'm really concerned with is Mr. Eisen. OK, buddy, you're up...



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