Halloween Food Fright: Hungry Dan vs. Wangfujing

Culture, Travel | by Dan Shapiro
Posted: October 27th, 2008 | Updated: July 13th, 2012 | Comments
  Our Hungry Dan Halloween special sees the Rogue Gourmand take on scorpion, centipede, starfish and other nutty Beijing tricks 'n treats. While Halloween may not be native to China, I've decided to celebrate my favorite holiday with a trip to Beijing's famous Wangfujing Night Market to sample some of the Capital's scariest foods and snacks. Located on the west side of Wangfujing's main drag, the night market, a row of red and white stalls and carts, is clearly visible from the street and an excellent venue for some classic shao kao (grilled skewered meat), not to mention a few decidedly trickier treats. A little nervous about diving directly into Wangfujing's more bizarre offerings, I decide on chicken hearts as a solid warm up. Although poultry ventricles aren't considered to be too outrageous in most parts of the world, my American upbringing leads me to believe that eating any man, woman, child, or animal's ticker is at least a tad adventurous. The verdict is simple. Grilled chicken hearts are simply delicious. They're chewy and creamy and I could definitely eat these on a regular basis.
Now I'm warmed up and ready to delve into some more "interesting" fare, and I scour the market for my next target. The options are abundant, with proprietors incessantly pitching their offerings. Rather than go too far too fast, I settle on grasshoppers next. Unlike the chicken hearts, which were grilled, the hoppers are caked in batter and deep fried. After a quick childhood flashback of watching grasshoppers innocenlty prance about, I go for it: head, legs and crunchy torso. Given that this is my first foray into insect consumption (save the time I accidentally swallowed a lightning bug when I was six) I must admit that the grasshopper makes for a mild and unremarkable snack. The initial crunch and ensuing innards are a bit unnerving at first, but my molars chomp away and the flavor is slight. While I don't think I'll go out of my way to eat grasshoppers again, it's certainly nothing to shy away from if anyone ever pitches a dare or offers serious cash to eat something wild. I'm feeling relaxed. The first two tastings went down easier than expected, so I decide to test the scarier depths of Wangfujing's assorted offerings. I go with my cavalier attitude and decide that nothing could be scarier than eating something poisonous. Scorpions are the only option. While I settle for the smaller already dead and skewered version, other patrons pay a little extra for live, juicy scorps and watch the impending impalement. Much like the grasshoppers, the scorpions are deep fried and have minimal flavor. However, the thinner body leaves less mess and the snack is quite tasty. There's no doubt that I'd eat them again, and there's a bit of a rush that comes wtih eating something so dangerous (or perhaps I'm just high from scorpion toxins). Regardless, I'm juiced and jazzed to venture into Wangfujing's even more outrageous depths. Next up: seahorses. Honestly, these guys don't seem very appealing. How much meat or flavor can they actually have? They're mostly shell, but they're also pricier than a lot of other menu items so there must be something to it. One more time, battered and fried. The verdict  . . . ... entirely too salty. Did these suckers take a bath in China's own salt lake, Qinghai Hu? This is seriously the saltiest thing I've ever put in my mouth. The inside of my mouth is a bit raw from all the sodium so I decide to relax with a can of brew before my next experiment. Drink, sip, swallow, next up . . . beetle cocoons. As you can tell, these are not my favorites. The thick shell quickly breaks and a creamy larvae-like substance explodes inside my mouth, leaving nowhere for my tongue to hide, even with the last of my beer as a chaser. If the beetles were merely salty, I'd be lucky. Still, I refrain from spitting or vomiting and choke it all down. Next . . . A popular dish in Guangdong, snakes aren't usually associated with northern cuisine, but after the cocoons, nothing could possibly be worse. I order a serpent and watch as it's lanced and then grilled. For some reason, I'm not in the least bit surprised at how tasty the snake is. Slightly chewy, ample flesh and a lack of exoskeleton or extra bones make this a carefree treat. It's salty, but nothing compared the seahorses. The snake revamps my passion for my carnivorous experiment, and I put the cocoon experience behind me altogether and venture even further into Wangfujing's culinary wilderness. It's only a matter of minutes before my next victim reveals itself: centipedes.... Well, it goes without saying that this is easily the most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mouth. At this moment I would really like to rip my own tongue out of my head. I hold back the rush of bile released by the crunchy texture and rotten warm licorice flavor. Still, the centipede continues to spoil in my mouth, leaving an aftertaste worse than the original bite. Determined to immediately block this memory out, I race to another cart and search for something else grossly adventurous. Still, I'm a bit apprehensive, so I draft the lovely Sonia to lend some moral support (and teeth) as we take on some starfish. While this bottom-dweller initially seems quite unappealing, I must admit that the five-pointed star is the hit of the evening. The ends are a little hard and crunchy, but the closer you get to the center, the moister the meat. Each leg is filled with a brownish hairy cream substance, which sounds terrible but quite to the contrary is delicious.So that does it for this special edition of Hungry Dan's Culinary Adventures ...  Wait. No. Just as in your favorite horror movie, there's one last fright. Before I take off, I'll leave you with one more sample: jellied lamb testicles. The stall owner explains that the baby ram nuts are wrapped in sea mushrooms, then jellied and grilled slathered in a spicy marinade. There's a brief moment of silence and deep thought before I consent to consume the remnants of a poor lamb's ramhood. But in the end I feel it's just, knowing that most likely the lamb was already done in for its meet and wool, and it would actually be irresponsible for me not to chow down on these protein marbles. Open up and say ahh, and that's tasty yolk sack! So delicious in fact, it makes me wanna get down and do the Monster Mash. Well, that's definitely it for now. There's no chance I can beat balls, so I'm gonna wash my mouth out with rubbing alcohol and chew gum continuously for 40 days and 40 nights. If this type of adventurous eating us up your alley, or you're merely trying to prepare yourself for an appearance on "Fear Factor," Wangfujing is definitely your hit.. Now ... where's that gum?
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