Beijing, China / May 31, 2010 / evening snack
Jay and I had heard tales of the legendary Beijing night market – that they sold still-live animals, blood and hearts, and other
unappetizing tidbits. So of course we had to go. The market itself is only a couple blocks long, with one stand after the next displaying its wares. Surprisingly, the whole affair is rather clean and sanitary-looking since it’s a huge tourist draw and regulated by the government.
Though still stuffed from the huge buffet meal we ate in the revolving restaurant atop our hotel (sadly, not worthy enough to write about here) we wanted to try something we couldn’t find anywhere else. The non-mouthwatering choices included centipedes, cicadas, sea horses, starfish, beetles, snake, scorpions (in small and large sizes), and all sorts of pig and cow innards, as well as more appealing needle fish, squid, and eel. (There were also flat patties that weren’t recognizable – but which the stall workers said were dog. One of them even produced a patty that he said was cat, though we weren’t sure whether to believe him.) The only people who seemed to be consuming these unusual eats were Western tourists, most of them college boys doing it for a dare. The Asians were mainly eating sushi, dumplings, and noodles, and laughing and gawking at the Westerners choking down the unappetizing items.
We couldn’t leave without sampling something, so Jay and I settled on trying the scorpions, in the small (and theoretically easier-to-swallow) size. They came fried, three to a stick. I went first. They were crunchy and, to me, just tasted like fried food with no distinctive flavor.
Next we tried snake, opting for the already cut meat on a stick rather than the snake skin. The meat smelled a bit weird, almost gamey, and had a slightly bitter taste different from anything I’d tried before. (It did not taste like chicken!)
Since we love sea urchin (at least at Japanese restaurants), we decided to go for one of those, though it looked and tasted a bit runny so we didn’t eat much of it.
Finally we had some grilled eel on a stick. Minus the sweet Japanese sauce, it could have passed for warm unagi sashimi.
On the walk back to the hotel, we stumbled upon a grittier version of the night market with more Chinese tourists — Wangfujing Snack Street, an area off of the fully pedestrianized Wangfujing Street. That’s where they had even less appetizing snacks like fried birds, lizards on sticks, tarantulas, and scorpions on sticks that were still alive. Jay and I were both glad we opted to try things at the first, more sanitized market.
Unfortunately, Jay also started having what seemed to be an allergic reaction to the scorpion. His nose and throat itched and we had to head back to our hotel for a Benedryl and for him to lie down. We looked up the dangers of eating fried scorpion on the Internet, but frying supposedly kills all the venom so we chose not to rush off to the hospital. (Luckily he felt better by morning.) No more scorpion for him!
– by Liz Humphreys, Winederlust Eater in Chief
Dong Hua Men Night Market / Dong Hua Men Avenue, West of Wang Fu Jing Avenue, Beijing
Wangfujing Snack Street / Off Wangfujing Street, Beijing
Open every evening, approximately 5-10pm.