In the lead up to our trip, John was telling everyone how he was going to eat all sorts of strange things in China. It was all about the weird foods, but after our unfortunate experience with Sichuan hot-pot we were a little nervous about trying crazy things. And I was straight-out NOT trying anything crazy. I’m content being conservative with the types of meat – and the parts of animals – that I’ll eat, and I’m honest about it. It’s not to say I won’t try new things – I’ve eaten many different things on my travels, sometimes not exactly voluntarily, but some things are completely off the menu for me. John’s a little bit less particular, so he was rather excited about the food markets in Beijing. I was too, but to take photos rather than partake.
There are two ‘main’ street food markets in Beijing that we’d heard of and it turns out that both seem to cater for tourists, or at least are popular enough with tourists that the occasional bit of English can be found. The first, Wangfujing St, opens early in the day and stays open most of the night. The other is strictly a night market.
We first visited Wangfujing St after exploring the Forbidden City, and while I bought some boiled corn [which tasted revoltingly like spoilt fish and was disturbingly chewy] and a stick of toffee-covered fruit, nothing caught John’s fancy. I suspected he was regretting his months of bragging. I tried tempting him by pointing out grilled starfish, crunchy cicadas and grasshoppers, sticks of squid and rather unappealing looking skewers of chicken organs. It was all for naught and he left hungry.
We visited the Donghuamen Night Food Market the next night and tried a few things that seemed appealing – spicy lamb wrapped in sticky rice paper, beef spring rolls in soy sauce, Peking duck wraps and deep fried bananas. The deep-fried bananas were acceptable – really just like donuts with some banana inside. The lamb and beef rolls both got unceremoniously dumped in a bin a little further down the street, being absolutely disgusting and tasting prophetically stomach-churning. The Peking duck wrap bore no resemblance to Peking duck, although John managed to finish it. It was, overall, disappointing. And so we returned to the Wangfujing St market just down the street.
This time I was adamant that John, after months of talking the talk, had to walk the walk. He decided that he’d be brave and try the scorpions. Not the giant, scary-looking black ones, but a stick of little tiny scorpions smaller than the grasshoppers. Of course, we then had to find a stall selling little scorpions [lots] that weren’t still wriggling in their impalement [not so many]. He picked one and it was thrown into a boiling pot of god-only-knows-what for a few minutes, before the base of the skewer was wrapped in paper and it was handed over.
John tentatively took a bite once we were around the corner and there was space for me to photograph this momentous occasion. And his reaction was rather negative, with language better not repeated here. He was quick to elaborate that it wasn’t the scorpion itself that tasted utterly vile [it tasted like crunchy nothing], but whatever it had been cooked in. John stated that it tasted as if everything they sold [a wide variety of unappealing seafood, meat and insects] was cooked in the one pot and it hadn’t been changed for a while. Only one scorpion on the stick was eaten – nothing could convince him to try a second and I sure as hell wasn’t going to.
And, as anticipated, both of us felt rather unpleasant the next day.