In the heart of Beijing, off the side of one of its busiest streets, lies a peculiar market.
It’s where tourists go to test the saying that the Chinese will eat anything with four legs and isn’t a table. Actually, the saying shouldn’t be restricted to only four legs, really anything that lives and breathes is a potential food for the Chinese. Flying lizards, beetles, grasshoppers, snakes, scorpions, organs of cow, pig and chicken – the Chinese are not restricted to one Phylum let alone one Class of food.
I have my eye on a row of black scorpions. The street vendor notices immediately and begins his pitch. “Scorpion good. Taste like Chicken. You try. Come.” I am still a bit nervous from a run in twenty minutes earlier I had with a snake. It had a slimy, gelatinous texture and even the four scoops of chill sauce dumped on top couldn’t suppress an overtly reptilian taste; something like fish that had gone rotten. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t seem to locate any actual meat, just the scaly, translucent skin. I ate two bites and chucked it in the trash-bin.
“Come, come. You try.” He diverts my attention away from the huge black scorpions, to the smaller, brownish variety. The scorpions are skewered on small wooden dowels and displayed in rows. The wiggles of tails and clamping of claws prove their freshness to connoisseurs of scorpion in Beijing, before they are unceremoniously fried. I am no connoisseur, just a tourist with a peaked interest. On my first day in China, I posted on Facebook that I was starting with chicken wings and working my way through the entire chicken. I had attached the menu of a local diner, which included “chicken gizzard”, chicken hearts” and “chicken head”. I was being sarcastic. Chicken head was definitely out of the question.
The street vendor passes me my insect on a stick and looks on with anticipation.
I eye my once poisonous meal with restrained hope. He is the size of a small bic lighter and has a brownish, black complexion with a golden opaque stinger.
I crunch down through the exoskeleton easily. I first notice an intense saltiness, almost like a roasted peanut, which gives way to a short, but enjoyable chewiness. Their isn’t much meat inside of him, but what’s there is soft and even a little moist. A couple of days earlier, an expat working at a cooking school had lessened some of my fears by saying “Think of it – Scorpions aren’t much different from lobsters, crawfish or shrimp. They have a similar anatomy. Think of them just like a land crawfish and you’ll be fine.”
I eat the scorpion in less than 3 seconds and dive into the second one on my stick without a moment’s hesitation. I enjoy more crunchy, salty goodness. It does taste a bit like chicken, but the question is which part? Maybe I have to reconsider my position on chicken-head after all.
Particulars in finding the Market.
The street market can be found in the hutongs (alleys) off the west side of Wangfujing street, which is the biggest shopping street in downtown Beijing. There is another market further up on Donghuamen Street that runs perpendicular to Wangfujing market that also sells unique street food (also off to the west side of Wangfujing street or the left hand side if you are coming from the Wangfujing subway station).
Make sure to try banana encased within a deep-fried and golden dough. It was so good I got it twice. See the pictures below.
Pictures of Donghuamen and Wangfujing Market:
Have you tried any food that you thought was surpassingly good? Let me know in the comment section so I can try it 🙂
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