Cocoons on a stick

all photos courtesy of Michael Bush

Bugging Out:

The Value of Trying Creepy Things to Eat

| published November 21, 2015 |

By Michael Bush, Thursday Review writer

You know what really bugs me? When I see picky eaters digging through their delicious plate of local food in search of one little thing they don’t like, only to declare that they won’t even try the dish.

“It’s got lemongrass in it. I can’t stand lemongrass. NO THANKS.”

“Oh, no. Can’t eat it. There are bones in the chicken. I prefer my meat without a gruesome reminder as to where it came from, thank you.”

“I’m allergic to all of this.”

Ok, maybe that last one is a good excuse…if it’s true. But, the whole point of this rant is to say that when you are in a foreign country, please try the food presented to you. It may look funny, it may smell strange, and it may be super duper ultimate mega nasty tasting…but it will be memorable (you can always eat at McDonalds when you get back home). You only live once, dear readers. During this fleeting life, take as many opportunities as you can to try things that are funny, strange, and mega nasty. Why not? You’ll look back on it years down the line, and tell your grandchildren, “one time, your nanna ate monkey boogers.”

The first time I stepped WAY outside of my box, was when my friend Singapore Cris and I ventured to a local spot for fresh brewed beer. I call him by this specific designation due to the fact his name is Cris and he hails from Singapore…coincidence? I think not. Anyway, as I’ve told you before, always choose the fresh beer. It’s the best stuff on Earth.

So as we ordered our fresh beer, well within our comfort zone, we saw an item on the menu that we just couldn’t pass up. I mean, we were quaffing beer liters at a time, and pretty much anything sounds like a good idea in those moments…and thus began my journey into the strange world of bug eating. plate full of cocoons

This first plate of bugs I ever ate was listed on the menu as bees, crickets, and bamboo larvae. We felt adventurous, but not so much that we’d try three bugs; we asked just for a plate of bees, please. When it arrived, I felt they looked more like hornets or wasps, but it was hard to tell because they were battered, deep fried, and salted. In fact, they basically tasted like French fries, but without any satisfying crunch; they were just too soft.

Now, many times since, I have taken people to that same restaurant and ordered the full platter, and I can say that the bamboo larvae are fantastic. They’re small, crunchy, salty, and delightful with beer; almost like a bowl of peanuts. After falling in love with those larvae, I was interested to see what else the world of bugs had to offer. And so, I began to search the menu for insects wherever we travelled.

On a trip to Beijing, we found ourselves in the Dong Hua Men Night Market, on Wangfujing Street. There were vendors lined up and down the block with unusual items for sale, all edible and most served on a stick. I saw seahorses, starfish, snakes, dog meat, a few different animal penises…and bugs…lots and lots of bugs.

more coocoons

centipede on a stick

I tried a few sticks of food that I was used to eating, stuff that I knew what it should taste like and could gauge the freshness and quality based solely on one or two bites. You see, lots of stuff in China is targeted at foreigners, and quality is often the last thought in those cases. It’s all about, “how can we make loads of cash off these fools?”

So, in fear of eating old rotten bugs, and not knowing the difference, I decided to try some lamb and chicken hearts first. They were of poor quality; they tasted old and gamey. I spat it into the trash, and decided not to eat the bugs. Call me an insect snob, but I want only the freshest bugs to enter my digestive system. I’d rather not pay homage to the Ancient Chinese Porcelain Emperor for mistakenly eating a bug that has been sitting there for weeks, just waiting for the right laowai to waste their money on it.

Back in Shanghai, my birthday approached, and once again I found a place famous for bugs. Much like the restaurant that served us bees and beer, this new place was a Yunnan restaurant, specializing in the cuisine of southwest China that focused on mushrooms, and featured goat cheese as well. Also, bamboo larvae were on the menu, and we know I love those! I heard the larvae were bigger at this new place, and bigger is better…right?

bamboo larvae

friends enjoying bugs


Well, the leap from twice the size of a grain of rice to half the size of a hotdog means a lot more bug guts than I’m ok with. Eating this monster was…well, difficult. It was not crispy and salty like its tiny cousins. It was soft, huge, and exploded with creamy guts in your mouth. I would not recommend the experience to anyone…ever. But even this horror did not put me off from eating bugs. I returned to the other restaurant, the one with the fresh beer, and continued to munch on their crickets, larvae, and bees many times over.

Suddenly, I found myself in Thailand! Not really. I mean, we planned a trip, took a flight, and stayed in a nice hotel. But, suddenly, after all of that, I found myself in Thailand. Cruising down the most hated and notorious backpacker tourist street in the Kingdom, I came across a cart full of fried bugs.

Fried bugs did you say? Well, I love me some fried bugs. Gimme.

enjoying a bite of bug

The only problem was, much like Beijing, this felt like a tourist trap. No one was eating them; no one was even looking at them, and the locals were ignoring them altogether. I picked up a large grasshopper, fried and crispy, and it fell apart in my fingers. It was cold and old.

“No thank you, madam,” I said, dusting bug legs from my palm into the street.

Again, go ahead and call me a bug snob, but I don’t consider it picky eating to turn down old rotten bugs. Now, had there been a small crowd of locals chowing down on these fried creepy crawlies, I’d have joined in with aplomb; devouring more than the average bear. But, alas, it was not meant to be on this day in Thailand.

Hot tip to our readers worldwide: the locals are always the best gauge for where and what to eat; if they avoid it, you should too. On the flipside, if they line up for an hour to get it, you should too. grashoppers on a stick

We soon found ourselves back in China and on tour guide duty, showing around visiting family members. Which meant, as always when someone visits China, a trip to Beijing and the Great Wall. And since it was a couple of years later, I wanted to sneak back over to the Dong Hua Men Night Market and sniff out any improvements in the quality of their bugs.

What I found was more of the same. Probably, though it was two years later, the same bugs lined the trays as the last time I visited; unsold and uneaten. They looked the exact same, only the trays holding them were different. But I noticed something special this time…a strange fascination with one bug in particular, almost like he and I were destined to be together forever…


scorpion on a stick


Looking at the scorpions, I had a flashback to the woods of Georgia…where we still own an acre of land, and a split-level home. In this flashback, I recalled that we never had a spider or roach problem at our country house in the woods…it was always scorpions. Those little bastards were everywhere. I put out scorpion traps and caught them daily. But the major memory that stabbed its way painfully through the fog of time was that occasion when one stung me on the forearm.

I had picked up a blanket from the couch, and one of the little monsters was apparently on it. I had no idea until the tiny fiend traversed the wide expanse of said blanket, and found a new home on my skin. Feeling the creepy sensation of tiny legs running across my dermis, I panicked like a lumberjack and flung the blanket at whatever happened to be nearby. It could have been the Pope, and he’d have gotten a face full of fabric. The tragedy was that in this moment of sudden action, the devil himself reached into that scorpion’s butt and penetrated my arm with his stinger of death.

Now, the scorpions in the Atlanta metro area, the backwoods of Georgia, up near Athens on Highway 316…they won’t kill you since their poison capacity is minimal. So getting stung by one is akin to being stung by a vicious bee or an angry yellow jacket.

Now, I’ve since eaten bees, but could not bring myself to eat my ancient nemesis… the scorpion. I was terrified of his tail, and the venom that it once held. Surely, it was long gone by now, after all they had been sitting on that tray for longer than I’ve been alive, I reckon. But irrational fear is just that…irrational.

However, it’s my philosophy to try these things…to have these memorable experiences. I couldn’t keep passing up these opportunities. It wasn’t fair to myself. But I just couldn’t do it that day. There was something missing from the equation. I wasn’t sure what that missing ingredient was until I visited the old capitol of China; Nanjing.
scorpion liquor

Yes, booze will make everything ok. It will even allow me to drink my enemy, not just once, but many times over. I win forever, scorpion!

Opening the bottle as I returned to Shanghai, I found one of the little creatures settled at the bottom; steeping and waiting for me to take my revenge. I couldn’t do it alone, though. I needed scorpions the world over to know that we are the true masters of the night…and the woods…or something. Ok fine, I just wanted some drinking buddies. scorpion drink

I formed a secret society known as the Scorpion Liquor Club, and upon special events, would break out the bottle and offer up a few sips of the cinnamon tasting liquor to any that wished to join our glorious crusade. Before leaving China, we finished the bottle, which took close to two years from start to finish. Two years of whispering insults to the little arachnid floating inside the bottle, pretending he was the one who hurt me so.

To all of those in his majesty’s formal army of the Scorpion Liquor Club, thank you, and I salute you.


Author's note: only some members of the secret society are pictured above, the rest have decided to take this secret to their graves

Related Thursday Review articles:

Pockets of Heaven: The Best Stuff to Eat in China; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; November 6, 2015.

Thank the Lord for Ice Cream; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; October 23, 2015.