Scorpion lollipop

First off, sorry for the delay in my posting this week. I’m stuck behind “The Great Firewall of China” and WordPress was inaccessible this week. Now on the nitty gritty. This particular post is inspired by my friend and fellow blogger Paul. On his blog ‘Paul sees the world,’ he once wrote about a scorpion lollipop, which he never ended up eating, not even the second time he wrote an entry about it. When I saw a scorpion lollipop in the shop, I knew I had to feature it here.

When I finally got around to eating it, I was a bit hesitant, but I had tried scorpion before. I can tell you straight off the bat that this is definitely a gimmick. I did no enjoy this sucker one bit. The problem was not the little critter within, but the candy itself. It was so thick it took me an hour just to get at the scorpion, not to mention it was pretty tasteless. Needless to say I didn’t finish it. The scorpion itself was fine, just a little chewy. Due to the slow way of eating, it lost a bit of its crunch.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 4

 

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Chocolate covered crickets

 

FullSizeRenderPppMy birthday party last weekend was pretty great, with lots of mescal as you ma have read. Of course I brought out some snacks as well. No potato chips this time, but chocolate covered crickets hat I bought in San Francisco and had saved for just such a special occasion. Surprisingly though my friends actually wanted to try. I guess I’m rubbing off on them.

First thing I thought was that the pieces were rather small, but then again we’re talking crickets not grasshoppers. Then when I tried one I was hit with an amazing dark chocolate. Probably the best chocolate I ever got in the States. And yes, there was a crisp and a crunch inside, but nothing that tasted strange. The only thing was that every so often you’d have a bit in your mouth that would kind of stick around unwanted. Otherwise a great little snack.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 8

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Mescal with worm

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When I was studying in Mexico I got to try some mescal. Mescal is like the older, more sophisticated brother of tequila which is made from the same agave plant. At the time I wrote about gusano salt, a special salt made with crushed up maguey worms used for rimming the glass. It’s this worm that also finds it’s way into the bottle of mescal. If you’ve ever seen a bottle of alcohol with a worm in it, chances are it’s a bottle of mescal.

I bought a bottle while in Mexico and cracked it open last night to celebrate my birthday with some friends, though my birthday is actually today. Clearly I’m fishing for some birthday wishes from my readers.

The first round of shots was had without worm, and everybody agreed it was a really nice drink. It does have that advertised smokiness, but also I warms your body without being too strong. The worm always finds its way to the last shot, which – and this should come as no surprise – was bestowed on me. As I chewed it, it popped not unlike a grape. If there was any flavor of worm before, that was now drowned out by the mescal, so pretty much it was once again just a different texture.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 8

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Agave worm salt

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The mighty agave should be Mexico’s national plant. You can use it to make tequila, mescal and pulque, and it can be used medicinally, but it is also the home of the maguey worm known locally as ‘gusano’. This little fella is served fried in tacos or added to bottle of mescal. It’s also ground up and mixed with salt to make ‘sal de gusano’. This worm salt is mainly used to salt rim the glasses that are used for mescal. That’s how I first tried it. The salt is visibly different. It has a deep red brown color. It tastes just like regular salt though. Perhaps this is an easy entry to the world of eating insects.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 6

Flying ant powder

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If you visit restaurant Pujol in Mexico City, like I did last month, you go there expecting two dishes: The four year old mole and the baby corn dusted with chicatana powder. Chicatanas are a type of flying ant that are harvested in Oaxaca for only a few days a year. Chef Olvera serves them ground up and mixed in with mayonnaise to serve as a coating for the baby corn.

My fear factor is very low for an insect dish. That is simply because I knew they ants would be ground up and unrecognizable, and also because I trust this famed chef. The corn was super soft and tender, and had a beautiful taste with the sauce, a definite highlight of the meal. The ants, as suspected were hard, if not impossible to distinguish. I couldn’t taste anything, and I could barely see anything safe for a few lonely specks of black.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 8

Grasshoppers with guacamole

 

FullSizeRenderI was actually not sure if I should write grasshoppers with guacamole or guacamole with grasshoppers. At any rate there was a lot of guacamole and there were a lot of grasshoppers. Although they were so small they could have just as easily been crickets, which I suspect they were. Ah well, same difference really.

I split them with a friend in Mexico as an appetizer. We had both had scorpion before, so we weren’t actually that squeamish, hence the low fear factor. It was just the idea of eating them by the spoonful that was a little off-putting.

The guacamole itself was super fresh, not too heavy on the spice and not too heavy on the raw onions either. The grasshoppers might look unappealing, but actually taste alright. To be honest there isn’t much flavor to them, it’s more of an added crunch. My guess is they’ve been eaten for centuries as a way to bulk up on cheap protein, though these days chicken and pork seem to be the cheaper alternatives.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 8

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Ant eggs

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Out of all the unusual things things I thought I could ever eat, ant larvae were not on my list. It just never occurred to me you could eat them. Yet that’s what they do here in Mexico, and have been doing since pre-Hispanic times. They’re called ‘escamoles’ in Spanish and are usually translated as ant eggs, but they are in fact the pupae and larvae. Naturally I had to try.

They were served in small parcels wrapped up in leaves that resembled cabbages and tasted more like garlic. Eating the wraps, I could really only taste garlic, so I tried a bite of just the larvae. It didn’t actually taste like anything, which was both a relief and a disappointment. It had an interesting texture though, quite soft like goat’s cheese.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test 6

Fried crickets

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I wrote previously about eating scorpion here in China, but that wasn’t the first time I had tried eating insects (technically scorpions aren’t insects, of course). On a trip to Thailand two or three years ago I was browsing the local market in the town of Chiang Rai when I noticed a stall selling fried crickets. I was eyeing them out, but didn’t dare try. I exchanged some nervous smiles with a local girl who was thinking about buying some.

Later I came across another stall selling cricket, and low and behold that same girl was there actually buying a bagful of the little critters. She spotted me and held up her bag offering me a sample. It would be rude to say no, and it was a great chance to try without having to buy a whole bag, so I indulged myself.

I was surprised by how much I liked this local snack. There was no disgusting taste, which I was afraid of. In fact it didn’t taste like much at all. It was, as is so often the case, a textural thing. The crickets were crispy and crunchy, and with some added salt and chili reminded me mostly of potato chips.

I think that was my first foray into tasting the unknown. If I hadn’t taken that girl’s offer this blog might never had existed.

Fear Factor – 8 / Taste Test – 8

 

Fried Scorpion

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Insects and arachnids are eaten the world over. It’s only in the so-called western countries that we deem it strange. Here in China it’s not as common to eat insects as it once was, but you’ll still find it in certain places.

The tourist markets in Beijing are filled with creepy crawlers on a stick, but in the southern province of Yunnan you can get a more authentic taste. I recently came across some of the more Beijing-style insects at a food festival in Lanzhou, where I live. My dish of choice for the day was scorpion.

There were small scorpions on a stick, and huge ones, but as I was with friends I went for the small ones so we could share. Everybody was bit hesitant, some very hesitant, but in the end we all agreed it was actually pretty good eating.

The scorpions were extremely crunchy, and had a slight savory and salty taste. There was no foul intestinal taste whatsoever. The fleshy part of the body had a slight chew to it like beef jerky. The whole thing reminded me of crispy fried chicken skin, crispy, crunchy, and salty. Darn it, I should have bought more.

Fear Factor – 6 / Taste Test – 9

Escargots

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Living in Holland, I would never have imagined eating snails, even if it has a fancy name and is baked with loads of garlic. When you’re on holiday, however, you tend to be much braver when it comes to trying out certain foods. When I went to Paris on a city break I found myself stealing a few bites of my friend’s escargots.

Being hesitant to try out different foods is often a mental thing. I mean, why would someone be happy to eat the meat of a pig or a cow, but be grossed out by the idea of eating the meat of a donkey. Knowing full well I can’t honestly say I dislike something without ever having tried it, I went ahead and took a bite.

To my surprise the escargots were not nearly as bad as I thought they would be. In fact, I rather liked them. The taste of the snails is masked by the herbs, butter and garlic, which is a combination I’ve always been drawn to. Snails will never become my favorite meal though, as there is a slight semi-rubbery texture that just doesn’t match my palate.

Fear Factor – 6 / Taste Test – 7