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Tasty Crispy Silkworm [Nov. 30th, 2006|09:53 pm]
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Appealing Chinese name - "tasty crispy silkworm"

What it really is - deep fried silkworm pupae

Location - posh Beijing restaurant.






This week I went to one of the best restaurants in town to try one of the most visually appealing things on the menu.
This "Northern" Chinese restaurant is near a friend's house and seems ridiculously opulent. There are a trained team of about ten girls in traditional dresses whose job it is to say hello to you as you walk in the entrance and toward the stairs. If you're lucky you can arrive while they are doing their warm-up chants and feel like an emperor in a film. Here it is;



The food here is generally excellent, but there's one menu item that's always interested me more than the others - "tasty crispy silkworm". The picture in the menu looked genuinely appealing, if a little on the large side, portion-wise.
Before I came to China I was unaware that silkworms were edible, let alone served at fancy restaurants like this one, but here they are.

Before I start the review perhaps I'd better remind everyone that silkworms are not actually worms but the pupae of moths. If somebody wanted to make a shirt out of the things they would boil the pupae in water for five minutes and wind out the strands of fibre. For some reason somebody thought it would be better to deep fry them instead and serve them up as food.

I don't have any problem with eating pupae, probably because they look a great deal more like a plant than an animal. If I was being presented with the caterpillars or the moths I might think twice about putting them into my mouth, but when they arrived these looked not particularly insect-like, but more like some delicious golden-brown vegetable.



On the side there was a small saucer of sesame seeds and salt, presumably for dipping.
The first thing I noticed was the smell. It wasn't good. Something like burned hair, which, in a sense, it was. The smell was pervasive and lingering. I didn't like it at all.



Still, better dig in. The first chopstick contact with the pupae was surprising in its lack of crispyness. While the outer shell itself was quite hard the object as a whole bent quite easily.



The obvious thing to do was to dip it into the sesame salt. Sesame and salt both taste good, no risk there surely?



It stuck to the outer shell very well. The dish had at least been designed by somebody who understood textures.



This boded well for the first bite. I raised it to my lips and bit away a third of the thing.



It wasn't bad. As expected the taste was mainly sesame salt, but the shell was nicely chewy and the inside part was textured in quite a pleasant way - a little like fibery bean-curd. There actually wasn't that much to see inside, just a few wispy fibres.



The shell required a fair bit of chewing, but did eventually dissolve away. Altogether the first taste wasn't bad, though I could still smell burnt hair.



A second bite took me down to the base of the thing, where there was a harder, larger bit of shell. I'd like to call it a head, but I don't think it really is one.



This bite was much the same as the first one, but slightly better as there was less shell to chew. There really wasn't anything particularly bad about either the taste or the texture, but nothing particularly satisfying either.
Inside looked a bit strange this time, though.



As you can see there was a black bit in the centre. I'm not sure what this is and brief research yields no answers. I suppose this must be the moth that could have been.
There was only the end-piece with the "head shell" left. I popped this into my mouth and began to chew.



But this bit wasn't quite the same. After about thirty seconds it became clear that there were chewy bits that would never become swallowable. As much as I chewed they pieces refused to break-up. Whether this was the "head shell" or the black bit inside wasn't really clear.



Finally I managed to swallow it. Overall I managed to eat four of the things before the smell started to overpower me. It seemed a bit of a waste, but eventually we had to have the dish taken away from the table as it became impossible to eat anything else. Then for the remainder of the day I could still somehow smell it, and it just kept getting less and less pleasant.
These are some of the reasons I won't be eating silkworms again.
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: versimilitant
2006-11-30 05:36 pm (UTC)

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<<>>> I draw the line at bugs.

So did the things still have their silk cocoons, then? Perhaps that is the cause of the burnt hair smell.

Brave man. Munch on.
From: vincesatterly
2008-08-11 08:18 am (UTC)

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And, did I draw this line in stone, or is it overcooked angel-hair pasta again. I followed my heart, and it led me to a dead end on a one-way road.
[User Picture]From: axl12
2006-12-01 12:44 am (UTC)

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have you tried fried cow udder and kopi luwak?
http://bertc.com/fried_cow.htm
[User Picture]From: otana
2006-12-01 03:40 am (UTC)

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Oh man, I could never eat silkworm larvae. I'm surprised it's the smell that did it though, they look pretty icky to me.
[User Picture]From: dreamburnt
2006-12-02 02:10 am (UTC)

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Don't think I could eat one sober, but they do look very appealing--nice color, a refreshing lack of eyes... Shame about the smell.
[User Picture]From: detonate_for_me
2006-12-04 02:26 pm (UTC)

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You are a very brave man.
From: (Anonymous)
2006-12-09 11:23 pm (UTC)

Silkworms

(Link)

Hey there, i used to live in china and saw those things everywhere and never tried them, a mate said they were quite tasty but i thought you actually had to talk the silk-worm out when you were eating them?.

As another tasty china tidbit, try intestines...looks and smells like bacon, that is until you bite into it and realise it's not quite bacon but rather something much more offal!!
From: robingodd
2008-10-09 04:35 pm (UTC)

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There we saw a fish farm (quite sad actually) and had a good time walking through the town at night and drank shots of rice wine with green mango, offered to us by a group of very sweet, and very drunk, locals.
[User Picture]From: whitedove1
2006-12-10 01:43 am (UTC)

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I've taken the liberty of adding you to my list because I appreciate your epicurian nature and your photo reviews. You are a much braver soul than I am when it comes to trying the scarier foods out there. I thought I was brave when I ordered UNI at a sushi bar or the time I ate snake. You've taken an awful lot of flack from people that don't understand diversity of other cultures, that is to be expected of ignorant people, sad though.
From: (Anonymous)
2006-12-10 09:28 am (UTC)

crispy silk worm

(Link)

are they kosher
[User Picture]From: seanmmurphy
2007-01-16 08:34 pm (UTC)

Re: crispy silk worm

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Quick hit here: No. There are only four species of insects, all of them of the grasshopper family and living in and around the Middle East, that are kosher.
[User Picture]From: rwillmsen
2006-12-10 08:02 pm (UTC)

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Try some chou doufu! Sometimes my students ask me if I've eaten it. The answer to the question 'have you ever eaten something that smells exactly like human shit, you know, even though it smells exactly like human shit?' is always, er, no.
[User Picture]From: kaveypie
2006-12-11 03:06 pm (UTC)

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Same as whitedove1 above, I'm adding you to my friends list as I enjoyed this post (linked from a thread on BBC discussion boards Food Chat forum) and checked out some of your others which look intriguing too!

[User Picture]From: freyamoon
2006-12-11 09:31 pm (UTC)

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Looks awful.. You have my admiration.. And added you to friends so I can see what you eat next!
From: (Anonymous)
2007-01-04 01:54 am (UTC)

already mentioned

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Someone already mentioned chou doufu! Most disgusting thing on the planet to eat.

When you are in Hangzhou next you should try 'drunk prawns', live prawns in baijiu or some potent vodka. You have to eat them quickly before they drown in alcohol!
From: reyessloughter
2008-08-11 04:54 am (UTC)

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Personally I don't have time for drunks, they stink, the vomit, they fall over and you have to pick them up, they cause mayhem in city centres distracting the police, which we pay for with our council tax, from protecting us at night from burglars and other criminals.
[User Picture]From: desperance
2007-01-16 05:42 pm (UTC)

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Hah! Chou dofu? This is nothing, I tell you (and yup, been there, eaten that). Surstromming is the thing, for smelliness: fermented herring, where you open the can underwater to ease the shock of it, and hopefully out of doors. My first experience was in someone's garage. The garage was full, when the tin went in the water; then bubbles rose up to the surface, and suddenly the garage was empty and the garden very full of people gasping and gagging and crying "Oh my God...!"

The fish is nice, actually, once you can bypass the smell: eat with cold boiled potato and raw onion, on flat bread, with akvavit and beer, and singing songs in praise of the herring. It's the only known dish where you eat raw onion to sweeten your breath...
From: (Anonymous)
2007-02-18 04:03 pm (UTC)

But where is it?

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Hey,

Came across your site via b3ta. Am also in beijing and was wondering if you could tell me where that restaurant is? Haven't had silkworms since Harbin. . .
[User Picture]From: foodtube
2007-02-19 08:42 am (UTC)

Re: But where is it?

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It's a Beijing style restaurant, not actually in Beijing, but in Zhuhai. Sorry for getting your hopes up.
From: (Anonymous)
2007-06-17 08:29 am (UTC)

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From: (Anonymous)
2007-06-27 02:30 am (UTC)

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Excelent information. Best wishes from New York.




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2009-02-03 10:19 pm (UTC)

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From: (Anonymous)
2007-09-09 03:43 am (UTC)

(Link)

I ate silkworms, and I thought they tasted great. You don't do it any justice, being overly dramatic.
From: jon32000
2007-12-27 06:21 am (UTC)

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yea that looks very tasty
i wouldnt eat that for a 1000 dollars
Ringer Nation
From: (Anonymous)
2008-05-22 02:46 pm (UTC)

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I have been taking silkworm pupae for a long time. It taste good. The taste are addictive. It is one of my favourite.
-Arung Siram, Arunachal Pradesh, India
From: (Anonymous)
2008-08-03 03:43 pm (UTC)

Edible Bugs

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You can try these for yourself from http://www.EdibleUnique.com

, fried silkworms, roasted scorpions, baked worms and a whole lot more www.edibleunique.com
[User Picture]From: jj96956
2008-08-18 02:33 pm (UTC)

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By the looks of your face in the last picture I will never be eating silkworms. Yuck. Usually deep fried food is so delicious,and I'm usually very open to trying new things, but this is crossing a line.
From: annasiegfried
2010-11-01 12:14 pm (UTC)

silkworms

(Link)

Some people might think that worms aren't something that you would eat. I don't know if you are familiar with Bear Gryls' show on the Discovery Channel. He displays survival techniques in different environments and in a few shows, he ate lots of worms and from what he said, silkworms would be like KFC compared to what he had to eat... so... maybe silk worms aren't that bad. Anyways, I think that any Chinese restaurant has that among its most prized restaurant supplies. The hardest thing to come by is our mentality that says: "Worms are bad!!!"
[User Picture]From: Kelly Kc
2014-03-19 08:01 pm (UTC)

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Wow! So many years but still a good post and quite detailed!