Image: graeme newcomb
Deep fried scorpion at Highway 4 in Hanoi
Now before we get started, let’s get one thing clear. Disgusting as defined by you and me might not be disgusting as defined by the next gourmand. What one abhors the next adores. So get those “yucks” and “eeews” out of your system. You’d eat this stuff if you had to, or if society didn’t wrinkle its collective nose at it. It all tastes like chicken anyway, doesn’t it? Well let’s find out. Mmm. Mmm. Om nom nom nom nom nom nom.
Image: Jom D
1. Fried Spiders
Fried Spiders in Cambodia – spider on a plate anyone?
A delicacy in parts of Cambodia – where the spiders have been harvested from holes in the ground since desperation dictated under Khmer Rouge rule – deep-fried tarantula has had favourable reviews from western writers, who’ve described it as crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle. Apparently, the legs are “pleasantly crunchy”, while the head and body “have a delicate white meat” in store that, inevitably, tastes like chicken – or “rather like a cross between chicken and cod.”
Image: A. www.viajar24h.com
Crawling reviews – crunchy fried spiders in Cambodia…
So far so good, especially with the palm-sized dainties cooked in an appetising mixture of MSG, sugar, salt and garlic until their insides are a bit less runny. But wait. It’s the spider’s rear end you may be inclined to pick over. Containing a dark, brown paste bursting with everything from organs to eggs and excrement, even some of the peddlers turn their nose up at this little element of the treat. OK, technically not an insect, but we’ll let that slide.
Image: Weird Meat
2. Bee Larvae
Looking moreishly like meal worms, but somewhat more succulently maggot-esque, bee larvae do at least have the mercy of not being descended from flies, and are also packed with protein. Deep fried with salt, pepper and spices, or cooked with soy sauce and sugar, they’re crunchy, sweet and devoured by the locals like popcorn – and by the bucket load. Mind you, deep-fried, a lot of things taste good for devouring, including parts of chickens you’d sooner pass on if they were cooked any other way.
Making a bee-line for the table…bee larvae served
That said, washed down with a few beers, these bee larvae munchies are by all accounts surprisingly good to chow down on, and even have some health benefits according to local wisdom. In China, beekeepers are considered virile members of the workforce because of the quantities of larvae they eat from their beehives. Well, that’s something to counteract the beer, anyway.
3. Witchetty Grub
Man eats grub
Eaten raw or lightly roasted in hot ashes, the witchetty grub is a staple of Australian Aboriginal eating, where it is sought after as a rich source of protein. Yes, mate, by all accounts this is among the best of insect bush tucker. Tasting similar to almonds and cream, when cooked the grub’s skin crisps up like sausages or – you guessed it – roast chicken, with the insides turning light yellow, reminiscent of fried or scrambled egg.
But it’s eating the grubs alive that really separates the men from the women and children – the latter of whom traditionally eat them. The tip is to hold the grub by its head, lower it into one’s mouth, bite it off at the neck, and start chewing right away to avoid the, erm, uncomfortable sensation of a grub wriggling around in your gob. Nice. Dug out of roots with sticks, this grub might just get you out of a hole in the outback – and there’s a recipe for making a pretty mean, slurp-alicious soup too.
4. Fried Grasshoppers
Fried grasshopper snacks close-up on a plate
Back to sample the delights that China, as well as various other Southeast Asian countries, has to offer – which seems to consist of almost anything that moves. Yes, golden brown-fried grasshoppers are next up on the menu. What can we say? These salty, spicy snacks are a common sight especially in Tianjin marketplaces, and in autumn the meat is thought to taste particularly delicious – though apparently more like grass than chicken.
Hopping mad about this snack…
Recipes for preparing these bites involve allowing the grasshoppers to, erm, empty themselves overnight, boiling them in water, dipping them in egg yolks plus seasoning like corn flour and spices, and then frying them in onions and soy sauce. If the thought of eating grasshopper leaves you a bit green about the gills, just think of the nutritional benefits. Cooked grasshopper contains up to 60 percent protein and 6 percent fat as compared with the 18:18 ratio of your average hamburger. Slimline-tastic.
5. Wasp Crackers
Digger wasp rice crackers
Made with real digger wasps – yup, nothing but the best – Japanese wasp crackers have caused quite a buzz among insect epicures. Made using wasps hunted by elderly gents in the woods near the town of Omachi, they’re baked by the tray-full and distributed by a wasp lovers club. Confused? We were. Still, this is Japan, so a wasp fan club shouldn’t shock you any more than a man being dragged around by his unmentionables for some bizarre game show.
Image: Herro Flom Japan
Creating quite a buzz…wasp crackers
Taste-wise, the wasp club president passed on the easy option of saying they were just like chicken, instead opting for the enigmatic, if rather unhelpful, “It’s hard to explain, you really just have to taste it yourself.” Wishy-washy waspy. Each rice cracker contains five or so of its insect ingredient, which are first boiled in water. But the big question on everyone’s lips is: are there stings in their tails? Apparently yes, but they’re not harmful to humans, especially when pressed in hot iron cracker cutters.
Image: Ivan Lian
6. Stewed Silkworm Pupae
Stewed silkworm pupae in a bowl
Stewed silkworm pupae, otherwise known as Beondegi, are a hugely popular snack in South Korean cuisine. Served by many a street vendor, the pupae are also popular nibbles in bars, and even come in cans in case you’re caught craving at home. The canned variety apparently have a slight nutty aroma and the flavour of canned peas mixed with a hint of mildew, while deep-fried they’ve been described as “like peanut skin filled with a woody foie gras-like paste”. Pretty far from chicken then.
Silky texture…silkworm pupae soup
To prepare Beondegi, the cocoons are first steamed or boiled, then seasoned so they can be enjoyed for the high-protein morsels of goodness they are. And get this: these titbits have even been proposed for cultivation by astronauts as space food on long-term missions. A major mmm mmm mmm for the moon walking, space explorer types among us.
7. Fried Scorpions
We’re back in China for our final course, and another bite to eat from the arachnid family – this one with the more disconcerting prospect of pincers… and worse. Sold on skewers, the legs of these tasty fried critters are said to be quite brittle, with the tang of the salty seasoning in which they are fried, if slightly more bitter. But as with the tarantula, it’s the meat westerners tend to get squeamish about, with the gooier body pungent and less pleasant to the palate.
Image: graeme newcomb
Taste with a sting in its tail…fried scorpion
Even scorpion gluttons have reason to be a bit picky with their morsel of choice, particularly when it comes to the shrivelled sting on the end of its tail. There have been reports of people suffering allergic reactions from eating the poisonous parts of these things, which leaves one wondering: why take the risk? That said, this deep-fried delicacy is everywhere in China, as well as neighbouring countries like Vietnam, and the locals love it – even if it tastes nothing like chicken.