Before we start, I’m going to tell you a bit about an episode of Father Ted called “Flight Into Terror”. I won’t go into too much detail, but Ted, Dougal and Jack find themselves on a plane full of priests on the way back from a pilgrimage when it all goes a bit pear-shaped.
Dougal – the dopey priest – finds himself on a tour of the cockpit when he sees a great big red button with the words “DO NOT PRESS” written next to it. Naturally, his curiosity gets the better of him and he can’t help but press the button which causes all sorts of chaos and leaves Ted to save the day. Anyway, you can see what I mean at the beginning of the video clip below.
The point I’m making is that – despite knowing full well it isn’t a good idea to press the button – Dougal can’t help doing it just to see what happens. So, what does all this have to do with a food market in Beijing?
When I heard about Donghuamen Night Market, I had my very own ‘Dougal moment’. Despite knowing that there was a variety of noodle and rice-based dishes available, as well as dumplings, kebabs and many other ‘normal’ things, the only reason Donghuamen stood out to me was because I read that they also sell a variety of crazy foods too, such as starfish, testicles (I drew the line at those), silkworms and many, many more.
Of course I didn’t expect any of this to taste good, but for some unexplainable reason I was determined to eat as much crazy stuff as possible. If you’re a little squeamish, you may wish to stop reading now.
The first stall we saw set the tone for the evening, as we had a number of foods offered to us which made our skin crawl a little. The worst thing about it was that a lot of the hawkers didn’t actually know the English words for what they were selling, so a lot of it was down to eating what you recognised. Starfish was the most recognisable item on this particular stall, so I plumped for that.
A few minutes in a pan of oil was all it needed, and I was good to go. I don’t really know what I expected, but I didn’t expect there to be much inside it. The texture was understandable fairly crispy and felt sandy, but there was a dark coloured mush in the middle that tasty quite fishy. At the time I remember saying it wasn’t too bad, but the very thought of it is making me a little queasy. Time to move on.
Ugh. The dreaded silkworms. I have absolutely no idea what I was thinking, as there was no way in the world these were ever going to be nice.
A generous (or cruel, depending on how you look at it) portion of five silkworms on a screwer was placed on a flat grill for a few minutes, then seasoned with some sort of herb for my pleasure…presumably. The crunchy on the outside and mushy on the inside texture was truly vile, and the taste wasn’t much better either. Never again.
Next up was a sea snake, because starfish and silkworms apparently weren’t bad enough.
They said it was a sea snake, but in all honesty it could have been absolutely anything as it was just a long, stringy, rubbery thing on a skewer. This received the same treatment as the silkworms in terms of cooking and seasoning, and the only comparison that comes to mind is that with pork fat. Very undercooked, chewy, not very nice pork fat.
From now on the only way was up, surely! I decided that that was enough insects and jungle creatures for one night/lifetime and went for something a little more normal. I’d tasted shark meat before and remembered it being ok, so this seemed like quite a safe bet.
I did toy with the idea of a full shark on a stick, but it looked a little gross and I’d had enough of that type of thing so I settled for a bit of fried shark meat on a skewer. Thankfully my suspicions were proven to be correct, as this was a considerable improvement from what I’d eaten thus far which was good, as I was starting to fill up.
The final thing on a stick that I went for was a frog. I’d eaten a little bit of frog before when I was in Vietnam and, despite being fairly tipsy from rice wine at the time, I seemed to remember it tasting a lot like chicken – just as everyone says.
Anyone who was expecting a skewer of frog meat would, however, be in for a shock as this was a full frog with a wooden stick shoved through its arse and out of its head. Poor thing. As I remembered though, the taste and texture were quite good and did indeed resemble that of chicken. Once I was over the fact I was eating a full frog on a stick, I actually enjoyed it the most.
Once the frog was devoured, I felt absolutely awful and decided to force down some dumplings for a bit of normality. James commented that I was very quiet on the walk home and there was a good reason for that, as little over an hour after eating I was violently sick everywhere. I’m not sure whether this was down to what I’d eaten or how much of it there was, but either way, it wasn’t a pretty sight at all.