Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cast Iron Tummy

I am what most people would consider an adventurous eater.  When I was little and would start to pitch a fit over something that I was expected to eat my parents would always say that I needed to take at least one bite of it.  After all, how could I possibly know that I don't like something if I had never even tried it?  Fair enough.  Of course now, many MANY years later, they get completely grossed out at the things I consume but it's their own fault, truly.  Over the course of my travels I've had the opportunity to try many local delicacies that make most people want to vomit just by thinking about them.  But I think the craziest thing I have eaten to date was in Beijing.  After all, it's not every day that you get to snack on scorpion on a stick.

Some backstory first. 

Every night in Beijing by the Wangfujing pedestrian area there is a Night Market.  It's worth a go even if you don't eat anything, just for the smells.  It is legion, for they are many.  As the sky dims, two blocks begin to glow red through the hundreds of Chinese lanterns strung along the stalls.  Locals and tourists alike peer at the odd assortment of foodstuffs laid out for the choosing.  A briny cacophony of smells hangs thick in the air and the pop and sizzle of frying liquids creates a rhythmic backbeat to the symphony of languages dancing through the throngs.  

As I meander through, I see a variety of tentacles laid out like the special at the Lovecraft Cafe and clutches of chicken claws curled in like tiny bony cages.  Strips of snakes and eels lie side by side with things I can not translate or identify.  Darkly rounded orbs that I suspect are balut are clustered in glistening rounds.  Tiny seahorses are dried and ready for consumption as are huge starfishes.  And then, of course, there are the scorpions.  Massive ones with shiny black chitinous armor and tiny slightly transparent brown ones served two on a stick.  The tiny ones are still alive, flailing their pointy legs around trying to climb off the kebob.  I'm told they are still alive so you know they are fresh.  Well, wouldn't want a scorpion past its sell date now would you?

I try a variety of items, some of which I can identify and others that I can not.  The seahorse kind of made me sad and tasted of the sea.  I recalled dissecting starfish in high school biology and decided I didn't need to see the inside of one again.  The snakelike thing was a bit rubbery and the tentacle was tasty, if a little al dente.  But now for the scorpion.  I figured I had to at least try.  If for nothing else than the photo to prove that I actually did it.  The Chinese were popping these things in their mouths like popcorn and I didn't see anyone dropping dead immediately afterwards so I figured it was probably okay.  

I ordered a stick of two tiny ones, guessing that it would be better to be able to put the whole thing in my mouth rather than have to take bites out of it like I would with the large ones.  The gentleman behind the stall grinned crookedly at me with teeth stained from too much tobacco and wiped his hands on his apron, faded and spotted from too many washings.  He unceremoniously shoved my snack into a large metal can filled with a clear bubbling liquid for a few seconds then plucked it out and rolled it in some seasonings scattered on a bit of paper.  I put a few coins onto the counter as he handed my treat over to me and winked, probably enjoying the look on my face and thanking heaven for all the silly tourists. 

I instantly make the mistake of making eye contact with the top one.  The prudent thing would have been to just shove one in my mouth, not giving myself too much time to think about what it is I'm eating.  This has helped me in the past when trying something that is more than a bit suspect.  But now I am thinking about it and it's making me feel a bit ill.  Of course, now that I'm just standing to the side and looking at this thing I've drawn a bit of a crowd, mostly Australians, who are rooting me on and taking pictures.  I take a deep breath, fix an image of potato chips firmly in my mind, and bite into the thing, being careful to not eat the very tip of the tail as I'm not 100% sure that any venom that it may have contained has been extricated.  Sure enough, it tastes crispy and salty much like a potato chip albeit with a bit of an unusually indescribable aftertaste.  The crowd goes nuts and I get more pictures taken and thumps on the back as they all assure me that they would NEVER eat anything like that.  Thanks for that, guys.  The second one goes down without a hitch and as I wave farewell to my tiny but passionate assemblage of adoring fans and start to walk back to the hotel I swig half a bottle of water and get an overwhelming urge to floss.  

1 comment:

  1. So. Fun. Thanks for sharing. And for flossing :)