Weird Food

Weird Food 4: Scorpion

It’s finally going to happen. This week, I am finally going to indulge one of the darkest corners of my curiosity and try surströmming, the notoriously horrible-smelling Swedish fermented herring.

I was actually going to try it today. Then I realized that we only have one can opener in the house. A good can opener. An expensive can opener built to last. And if the stories I’ve heard are true, I’m likely to have to discard most of the plates, utensils, garbage bags, furniture, and clothes that are contaminated by surströmming juice. So before I can do that, I have to go buy a cheap can opener and probably a tablecloth to wear like a poncho.

This was my other menu option:

Scorpion Body.png

That is a black scorpion (also known as an Asian forest scorpion, or Heterometrus longimanus).

It looked like poison and death. It smelled like molasses. Of all the bugs I’ve eaten in the past month (more than I should have, no doubt), the scorpion was by far the crunchiest. I started with a leg. The leg was unpleasant. It was obscenely crunchy and didn’t seem to have any actual meat. It tasted foul, too. A bit like the smell of cat food mixed with the smell of pool chlorine. For the first time in my brief bug-eating career, I had to cleanse my palate with coffee.

Next, I tried the claw. Of all the parts of the scorpion, that one looked the most like food, because it looked like a lobster claw. Turns out that convergent evolution’s a bitch. It looked like a lobster claw, but it tasted like almost nothing, and the exoskeleton was so crunchy it was like biting down on a pistachio shell.

I went for the rear-most body segment after that, the one right before the tail. Before I bit into actual meat, a piece of exoskeleton immediately jammed between my teeth like one of those irritating popcorn husks. My reward for biting through that crunchy mess? Meat that tasted almost exactly like dry cat food (which yes, I have tasted) and followed up with a nasty bitterness. The head was the same story, only less offensively crunchy.

Finally, I steeled my courage to take a bite of this:

Scorpion Tail.png

I should point out that I did not eat that stinger. Even I have my limits. For one, that’s where the venom gland is, and though most of the venom is probably gone, and most scorpions aren’t dangerously venomous anyway, my instincts prevent me from intentionally swallowing venom. That’s why I’m not dead. My instincts also prevent me from chewing up and swallowing an arachnid’s anus, which, as it turns out, is on the underside of the stinger. (I discovered this while researching to find out where the venom gland was. I also discovered that, apparently, scorpions have “anal valves”, which is my new phrase for the week).

I took a bite out of the segment at the opposite tend. It was far too crunchy, once again. It shattered noisily between my teeth into thousands of pieces which I had to spend a minute or two chewing. That minute or two gave me ample time to feel like an idiot, because once again, the tail tasted like cat food with a foul bitter aftertaste. After that, I declared failure and returned the disassembled scorpion to the bag. Trouble is, there was another whole one in the bag, so now I’ve got to decide whose birthday cake I want to decorate.

The Verdict

Way too crunchy. Tastes like cat food, bitterness, and chemicals, and filled me with the fear that I would poison myself and die in the stupidest possible way. Would not recommend.

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Weird Food

Weird Food 3: Centipede

I’ve always known people ate a lot of different bugs, but never in a million years did I think there were edible centipedes. But, apparently, the Chinese red-headed centipede is a folk remedy in China and a traditional food among Aboriginal Australians. This is what one looks like when it’s cooked, dried, and salted:

Centipede.png

I try to be open-minded about my food, but I guess centipedes are beyond my limit, because unlike with the tarantula and the waterbug, I went into this with more fear than curiosity. Part of that has to do with the fact that this centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes) is known to be venomous. Not lethally so, unless you have a really bad reaction, but venomous nonetheless. Therefore, I only ate the back three or four segments. And by “ate” I mean “chewed for a while, then spit out, and then rinsed my mouth after that.” I started to wonder if eating a centipede would be like eating a bunch of bee stingers, and I had visions of my throat closing up and having the world’s most ridiculous death certificate. “Cause of death: stupid dumbass tried to eat a centipede.”

But I did chew it up, and I did taste it. If you’ve ever kept fish, you’ve probably had those fishy-smelling food flakes. And, more than likely, you’ve tasted them at least once, out of curiosity. They have the smell of a seafood section at a Chinese grocery store: very shrimpy and fishy. Not rotten or rancid, but remarkably pungent and, to Western palates, a bit unpleasant. That’s what a dried centipede smells like, and that’s pretty much what it tastes like: meat, fish and/or hermit crab food, and an underlying grassy flavor. To nobody’s surprise, the texture isn’t great. I mean, come on, it’s a centipede. It’s mostly exoskeleton, legs, fangs,  and poison. But chewing it didn’t kill me, and now I have an ass-less centipede in a bag that I can use to…I don’t know. Frighten relatives? Decorate a really horrible birthday cake? Preserve and turn into a scary lapel pin? I can’t bear to throw it out, for some reason. But I’m certainly not going to eat any more. And I’m definitely not going to swallow any.

The Verdict

I don’t recommend it, unless your curiosity is so insatiable that you can’t rest until you’ve eaten a centipede. And if that’s happening, I recommend a round of counseling. If you still want to eat a centipede after that, then go for it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Weird Food

Weird Food 2: Giant Waterbug

Also known as Belatomastids, water scorpions, toe-biters, and alligator ticks. These nasty buggers will happily catch and eat anything from other bugs to lizards, frogs, and fish. They’re apparently a delicacy in southeast Asia. Which is weird, considering that they look almost exactly like cockroaches:

Waterbug Top.png

(Sorry the picture came out so bad. By the time I realized it was blurry, I’d already eaten the damn thing.)

That is one huge bug. I couldn’t find my ruler, but it has to be at least three or four inches long. And its underside makes it look, as Stuart Ashen once said, like a cross between an Egyptian mummy and a praying mantis:

Waterbug Bottom.png

Unlike with the tarantula, I actually hesitated to eat this thing. I looked at its creepy face and its weird legs, and I hesitated. If it was alive, I’m sure it would’ve sensed my fear, latched onto my face, and sucked my brains out through my eyeball. Luckily, someone in Thailand killed it for me.

The flavor is unpleasant. The underlying flavor is meaty and fairly nice. Like well-brined chicken or maybe crab. However, on top of that flavor are two other flavors. The first tastes like the smell of fish food. The second, I can only describe as tasting like the smell of clean laundry. I heard someone say these were supposed to taste fruity. Maybe that weird perfuminess was what they meant.

The texture is also a turn-off. It’s amazingly crunchy, and I had to spend a minute or two chewing each bite to break it down enough that it felt right to swallow. It doesn’t help that the exoskeleton has a texture a little bit like a dry leaf, and the wings (which came off as I was eating the bug) have a texture almost exactly like a dry leaf. Here’s a picture with a bite taken out of it, to prove I actually ate it.

Waterbug Eaten.png

That gross-looking crumbly stuff in the middle was actually the best-tasting part. That was what tasted like meat. I ended up eating the whole thing, and then I got to have a completely novel experience: having a burp that tastes like a giant waterbug. At least I’m expanding my horizons, right?

The Verdict

If you want to eat a bug, and you’re not a lizard and not easily grossed-out by its looks, the giant waterbug is a good place to start. It’s not as intimidating as the chewy spider I ate the other day. The flavor is more food-like than the spider was, and the meaty saltiness is actually kind of nice. Still, I’d only advise buying one of these if you can get it fairly cheap, have a strong stomach, and aren’t allergic to crustaceans.

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Weird Food

Weird Food 1: Tarantula

The Weird Side of YouTube is one of my guilty pleasures. As a result, I watch an alarming number of videos with “vomit alert” in the title. Also as a result, I end up seeing a lot of people eating bugs. A lot of those bugs come from a website called Thailand Unique. And because my bucket list is as abnormal as everything else in my life, when I was browsing the site, I got to thinking “I wanna try some edible bugs before I die.” So I had a bit of a binge and bought a whole box worth. Over the days and weeks to come, I’ll be reviewing them. Don’t worry, this isn’t turning into a food blog. Actually, this fits perfectly well with the site’s theme. I mean, c’mon: I’ve got curiosity right in the title. What forces besides curiosity and desperation would drive a man to order something like this?

Canned Tarantula.png

One of the most amusing things about Thailand Unique is that all their edible bugs look like the world’s weirdest military rations. Plain, no-nonsense labels that tell you exactly what’s in them.

It’s also very amusing that you can just buy a canned tarantula. Give it as a joke gift, or leave it in the pantry to confuse and frighten your significant other. Or do what I did, and eat the bugger. This is what it looked like when it came out of the can.

Zebra Tarantula.png

I should note that it arrived with the legs (well, some of them) still attached. I pulled them off for photographic clarity, and then proceeded to take a crappy photo anyway. Those things in front that look like buttocks? Those are the gigantic chelicerae, which contain the tarantula’s scary fangs. I didn’t eat those, because at one time, there were venom sacs somewhere in that vicinity, and while I’m curious, I’m not Wreckless Eating curious.

Before I actually properly review the tarantula, I should note a few amusing things. 1) The tarantula is presented as “Cooked & dehydrated with a light dusting of Barbeque seasoning. And 2) If you’re allergic to shellfish, you apparently can’t eat bugs. I mean, it makes sense. Bugs, crabs, and shrimp are all arthropods.

That’s actually a good segue into the review proper, because eating a tarantula is not unlike eating a shrimp with the shell on. There’s a lot of chewing and crunching before you get to the meat. The difference is that, in a tarantula, the dehydration process apparently makes all the meat shrivel to almost nothing. Either that, or tarantulas don’t have that much meat to begin with.

The texture isn’t all that pleasant. The exoskeleton is very crunchy and a little hairy. When I ate it, I had the same feeling I have when I accidentally eat a shrimp tail: that I’ve eaten a non-food part of a food item. Like accidentally leaving the wrapper on a Reese’s cup or something.

The flavor’s okay. It was hardly a revelation. Like I said, there’s almost no meat on a tarantula. The best-tasting parts are the thorax (cephalothorax, technically: the bit right behind the fangs with the eyes on it and the legs attached) and the legs. They have a faint meaty flavor that’s hard to place. It’s beefy, like lightly-seasoned teriyaki beef jerky, but with a weird herbiness, like you took your teriyaki jerky and put expired parsley on it.

The abdomen (the big bulbous part at the back) isn’t very good. It’s really hard, for one thing. I was afraid to bite down on it, for fear of breaking my teeth. When I did bite down on it, the flavor was a bit grassy and nasty. If you’ve ever eaten stale nori (sushi seaweed), that’s about the same flavor as a tarantula abdomen. The abdomen is weirdly homogenous, too. I looked up spider anatomical diagrams, and a spider’s abdomen does have organs in it. It’s mostly intestines and Malpighian tubules, though (spider kidneys, essentially). I ate about half of the abdomen before deciding I’d eaten enough spider for one lifetime.

The Verdict

Should you buy it? Only for curiosity’s sake. They’re not cheap to have shipped to the States. If you do get one, I certainly recommend trying the tasty cephalothorax and legs and then maybe just having a curious nibble of the abdomen. But if you happen to live somewhere where people eat tarantulas, but you haven’t tried one yet, I say go for it. It’s nowhere near the worst thing I’ve ever eaten.

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