The end is nigh! I fly home tomorrow. I honestly can’t believe that a month has flown by so quickly. I guess that’s what happens when you explore a country where you don’t speak the language, but somehow manage to find yourself in crazy adventures. From climbing mountains and dangling on the side of a vertical rock face, to exploring temples, side streets, and mysterious – possibly questionable looking clubs, China has been an incredible adventure.
Of course, the food has been an adventure all onto itself. I tried the recommended staples – Peking Duck (enjoyed several nights ago with a german student named Till), dumplings, noodles, and hot-pot. I’ve enjoyed various soups and rice dishes, both spicy and non. And I’ve also tried some of the local desserts, because dessert, naturally. But nothing in the world could really prepare me for the smorgasbord of gastronomic treats that were available in some of the various markets in the various cities I travelled.
So several nights ago, Till and I continued our gastronomic exploration of Beijing. Specifically, we found ourselves at the Donghuamen Street Market which was very conveniently located within walking distance of our respective hotels.
As we walked the length of the market we were greeted with various aromas, not necessarily matching the images we were seeing. There were standard things such as chicken and beef skewers, but mixed within these there were also skewers of crickets and beetles, snake, frog, fish, scorpions, sea urchin, starfish, unidentifiable animals, unidentifiable insects, and of course, spiders. Creepy, crawly, and heebie-jeebie inducing even in their skewered death-form.
We started our culinary exploration with a skewer of grilled silkworm pupae. To be honest, they look like cockroaches. As for the flavour – they were actually pretty good. They were seasoned with some sort of magic seasoning that pretty much makes everything taste amazing. The inside of the pupae had the consistency of cheese. It actually reminded me of cheese that one would have in a lasagna after it has been baked. The shell – is that the proper term – was crunchy, but not to the point of being offensive or intrusive. It wasn’t so thick that it made for difficult chewing, nor was it so thin that it had no textural impact.
Next we tried grilled snake. The outer flesh was a bit tough to bite through, but the inside had the consistency of egg white. It was actually, in my opinion, quite delicious. We also sampled deep-fried snake – but it was pretty much like eating anything that was super deep-fried. Crunchy, salty, and really devoid of most flavour.
Scorpions were added to our menu. They also were deep-fried, but I think since we had them before the deep-fried snake I enjoyed them more. Also, scorpions seem to be a bit more out there than snake, so there might have been a thrill factor involved with my liking them more.
I also managed to sample some deep-fried starfish – although it was huge so I couldn’t eat it all. It had the toughest/crunchiest of exteriors. The interior was like nothing I have ever tried. It had a weird crumbly wet texture, with a bit of a seafood (but not fishy) flavour.
There was also some sort of bat/lizard thing that I tried. The vendor claimed it to be a bat, but the tail on it suggested to me it was something else. The head and tail combined made me think it was a lizard prior to its untimely skewering. That is, unless bats have long tails and I’m just not as informed on bat knowledge as I should be. Regardless, it was super deep-fried so I’m sure whatever it was lost its original flavour in place of salty deep-fried crunchy deliciousness.
But the showstopper for me was the spider. For those of you who have been reading my blog for some time, you’ll know that I suffered from arachnophobia since I was a little kid. I grew up with a recurring nightmare about tarantulas killing my family. I’d wake up sweating and unable to breathe, fearful that the nightmare were real and if I moved they’d know and get me too. I won’t lie, walking by the platter of skewered spiders invoked both the heebie-jeebies and a sense of joy that they were actually dead. That didn’t stop my brain from jumping into old patterns of what if they aren’t really dead? Don’t get too close, they’ll get you.
When I came to China I knew that the possibility existed of eating a spider. The thought creeped me out. I remember telling someone who I’d be able to eat pretty much anything, but I didn’t think I’d be able to eat a spider.
Well, now here I was, staring at a small tarantula on a stick. Was I truly over my fear of spiders? My mind repeated – I don’t think I can do this. Internally the monologue went on for an eternity, but I know it was short-lived. I looked at the spider, reminding myself that I try to live with a goal of not letting my fears stop me from experiencing everything I possible can. And I thought to myself – what’s the worst that could happen?
The vendor passed me my spider and I contemplated it for a moment. Then I ate a leg. It was crunchy. Almost like an over cooked and super crunchy french fry. I ate another. Till joined in. Before long it was just me, Till, and the spider’s body on a stick. Go big or go home, right? One big gulp and it was gone.
And just like that, revenge was mine. Take that spiders everywhere.