Friday, December 21, 2012

My Brief Affair with Beondegi

Freeze time. 

A chilly winter afternoon in Busan, South Korea. 

In my hands, a Dixie cup full of warm, boiled silkworm pupae, piled on top of each other like faceless, legless roaches. 

This is "beondegi," a popular Korean street food.

Having just paid about 50 cents for them, I briefly calculate each one's individual worth. And then I eat one.

I don't know what I was picturing. 


I mean, I knew I didn't have an ice cream cone in my hands. I had a cup of bugs. Plain and simple. But I was really hoping to like them and join what I imagined to be the elite crowd of Korean bad-asses who knock back paper-cupped pupae.

My association with piping hot food served to me in a paper cup had been pretty darned good up until this point. There is nothing fear-inspiring about my favorite paper cup snack, "hotteok." Think funnel cake and waffle get together and have a baby. It's just good. So good that the lines to buy one snake and wrap around the stands which sell them. 

There are no lines to buy beondegi. Ever.

Day or night. 

Just lonely cauldrons filled with steaming silkworm pupae, emitting an odor not unlike stiff and dirty socks. Protein-packed stiff and dirty socks, mind you. And that's the thing. Those who willingly eat beondegi and enjoy it will tell you of the health-related reasons to do so. And I believe them. I really do. I can see where these little guys are packed with protein. 

But inspecting poo after eating corn will reveal perfectly fine pieces of corn still intact, but I'm not going to put corn-poo into a Dixie cup and eat it because there are vegetables in there.

But apparently, I will eat bugs. Or at least try. I took my little Dixie cup and found a private place in between two buildings to give it a go. In addition to wanting to be in the beondegi eating club, I wanted Koreans to see me eating them without grimacing, and I thought this would take practice. 

With my face toward the wall, I speared one of the lucky fellows on top and prepared to gear myself up. 

And I was thoroughly freaked out. I mean to say, I was dangling of a high rise roof kind of freaked. Legs numb. Heart racing. Mouth getting dry. Eye twitching. Feet making little nervous steps left and right. Left and right. It was ridiculous. I'd never blend in like this. 

I found taking several deep breaths, not unlike a woman in severe labor, helped a bit. That, and a healthy dose of negative self-talk. "What kind of pussy are you? Jesus, woman! Plenty of people eat these without a second thought. If you were starving, you'd be happy to have in your hands a cup of steamy legless roaches. Get over it, dummy."

This type of self-shaming led me to at least send my tongue out on an exploratory mission, with a speared pupa a few inches from my face. 

I can't imagine that licking the back of a roach is any different. If you let the roach take a little salt bath in a tiny little roach bathtub first. Ridgy. Salty. Waxy. Not words usually used for tasty eats.

But I want to fit in. And I can do this.
That's what I was thinking. 
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. 

See for yourself. (p.s. If it sounds like my voice is quivering like I'm about to cry. I'm not. I mean, that's silly. Who would almost cry from being freaked out. Not me.)

R.I.P. beondegi. Left for the trash man to find in a seedy back ally. You deserved better. You really did. Sorry we let each other down.

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