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Writer Julia Dimon nibbles on a silkworm pupae at the Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing.

The Donghuamen Night Market in downtown Beijing is the perfect place to try something, um, different. Deep fried scorpions, grasshoppers, snakes and worms are all on sale for adventurous tourists with a peculiar palate.

For dinner, I found myself there strolling along the lineup of food stalls. Red lanterns twinkled while thick smoke wafted from street-side Bunsen burners. Merchants called out, over the sizzle of their deep fryers, to hungry pedestrians and wannabe Fear Factor contestants.

Each stall sold something different, from fresh strawberries, to chicken kabobs, deep fried scoops of ice cream to shrimp dumplings. I, of course, gravitated towards the skewered insects.

Salted, deep-fried scorpions

While in the Chinese capital, chowing down on scorpions topped my list of things to do. I ordered a five-inch black scorpion. The vendor plopped the mutant invertebrate into a deep fryer and sprinkled salt on its glistening abdomen. I was nervous; the vendor was giddy. I traded him 50 Yuan ($7 Canadian), for a hot scorpion, folded in a white napkin.

I tried to remember that food deemed disgusting in one county, is often a delicacy in the next: guinea pigs in Peru, tarantulas in Cambodia, frogs legs in France. Maybe scorpions were actually tasty. I gave it a shot, bared my teeth and ripped off one of its lobster-like claws. It tasted like a hard, dry shell covered in Soya sauce. Sure the scorpion looked impressive but my crunchy appetizer wasn’t very flavourful.

I chucked it and ordered another strange treat — fried silkworm pupae. Impaled on a stick, these prune-like cocoons are popular with Chinese locals. I took a bite and chewed slowly. But I broke rule No. 1 of insect consumption — I thought about what I was actually eating. Gagging, I reached for a bottle of water and drowned the nasty flavour. Though it’s fun eating the forbidden, the taboo just isn’t tasty.

Julia Dimon, a Toronto-based freelance writer, is travelling around the world for one year.


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