The day I ate scorpions in China

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China has one of the world’s great cuisines. There’s hardly a Western country where “going out for some Chinese” isn’t a part of culinary life. Trouble is, what we know as Chinese food doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the Chinese really eat.

Sure, most of the dishes eaten in Beijing do feature stir-fries, but when it comes to the featured ingredients, it’s a whole other ball game. In a week of eating at restaurants and browsing the food stalls of Beijing, I witnessed a parade of dishes featuring goose feet, shredded rabbit, black fungus, barley congee with jujubes, pig tripe, and the star attraction: an entire turtle, cooked right in the shell, swimming in soup. How you eat that with chopsticks — or whether you should — I have no idea.

But that’s not even mentioning bugs. Where we reach for a can of Raid when we see large, crawly insects, the Chinese reach for their woks and start cooking. Which brings me to the day I ate scorpions in China. At a street market in the heart of downtown Beijing, my friend Brian and I wandered past stalls selling everything you could imagine on a stick. That included things like squid, starfish and little birds; it also includedScorpions on a stick grasshoppers, caterpillars and scorpions.

That’s right, scorpions. There were two kinds on offer — big, black, nasty-looking ones and smaller, more delicate critters, mounted three to a stick and roasted on a grill. Faced with such a bizarre display, there was only one thing a real traveller can do — try them. And that’s how I ate scorpions in Beijing.

I chose the little, delicate ones. The price was right — 20 yuan, or about $4, for a stick. And from what I could see, the stingers had been removed so my snack wouldn’t bite back. I handed over my money and the scorpion seller delivered my stick, smiling.

I looked at the scorpions. Was I really going to do this? Up close they didn’t seem that threatening, all roasted to a golden brown. Brian was waiting expectantly with the camera. I couldn’t back out now.

I crunched down on one of the little tails, which disintegrated into a kind of Eating scorpions in Beijingcrunchy chaff. The body came next, not much more substantial. They didn’t taste bad — in fact, they didn’t taste like much at all, just a kind of toasty flavour, with a slick of oil on top. In a few minutes, they were gone, save for a few crunchy bits that weren’t going down. I spit them out, and we walked on.

That’s how I ate scorpions in China. In retrospect, I’m glad I ate them on one of my first days in Beijing. After that, nothing that appeared on a menu could really surprise me. Except maybe that turtle …

Photos of me by Brian Jamieson.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

21 Comments

  1. Paul you are my hero! I love street food and have a policy of not asking what something is made of. I usually look around and if no one seems to be bent over dying of “lunch” I try it – but scorpions?! That would have taken me aback – just a teeny bit! Your post has revealed in my soul what may be a culinarily wimpy streak heretofore hidden. I stand (sit actually) ashamed of the “YUK” that rose from my lips while reading your story and resolve to think of you when I see roasted bugs – and even to TRY one! … did they have ketchup?

  2. Thanks, Roberta, but you’re probably braver than I am. I ate the scorpions out of curiosity, but generally I leave street food alone unless it’s vouched for by someone like my friend Allan in Puerto Vallarta. And no, there was no ketchup in sight — or mustard, either. I’m not even sure what condiments you put on your scorpions …
    PJM92 recently posted…The day I ate scorpions in BeijingMy Profile

  3. I’ve tried grasshoppers in Mexico (which were odd but pretty good), but scorpions somehow seems like more of a challenge. I think I’d be willing to try just about anything but roaches, so maybe I’ll be brave enough to take the plunge when I make it to China!

    One thing I noticed was the price you mentioned, $4USD for three scorpions. That strikes me as pretty expensive for street food, no? Is that pretty representative of street food prices in Beijing?
    Jakob Gibbons recently posted…The 7 Stages of the Traveler’s Social CycleMy Profile

    • I tried the grasshoppers in Mexico, too — not bad, but a bit crunchy. I didn’t eat much street food in Beijing, but I think that was a bit expensive. Generally, food was pretty cheap in the city.

  4. It’s kind of a right of passage in Asia, especially Bangkok, where Sang Thip and doing crazy stuff go hand in hand. It is amazing the food that is eaten around the world. Glad you are enjoying the adventure and stepping out of your comfort zone and eating those critters.
    Tim recently posted…Island LifeMy Profile

    • You’re right, Tim, it is amazing what people eat in different countries. I draw the line at those half-developed duck eggs they eat in the Philippines. Who knows, if the population keeps growing we may all be eating bugs in a few years.

  5. Ahh, I’m honestly not sure it I could do it!! I did try a tarantula one time in Cambodia- I thought it would be terrible, but it was just crunchy and not so bad. Sounds similar to this experience. I imagine taking the first bite would be the hardest part! Props to you!!

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