Bizarre foods at Beijing's night market

Bizarre foods at Beijing's night market

Spoiler alert: scorpions taste like greasy popcorn and sea horses resemble fishy bacon
Beijing Donghuamen street food -- main
Beijingers don't just roast ducks. They practice their passion for cooking on animals you've only ever seen on TV.

When I saw the words “night market” on the Beijing city map, my stomach rumbled at the thought of vendors with assorted dumplings and classic Chinese sweets.

But when I arrived at Donghuamen Night Market (北京东华门夜市), a street food landmark in Beijing, the plates were heaped with bugs and unconventional animal parts.

The 200-meter-long food street has been around since 1984 and is a hot spot for daring foodies. Sure, there's the tame candied fruit, lamb kebabs and stuffed buns, but the other end of the spectrum is rather more challenging.

With a selection ranging from scorpions to sea horses, the market carries one of the world’s most bizarre food selections.

Here’s the six weirdest items.

1. Fried scorpions

Beijing Donghuamen street food -- inline 1A precious TCM ingredient.

According to the vendors, frying scorpions neutralizes their poison. The tail, ironically, is the most nutritious part.

TCM masterpiece "Compendium of Materia Medica" (written in the 16th century) promoted scorpion as a precious ingredient, with such medicinal values reducing pain and promoting the circulation.

Fried scorpions at the market come in both adult and baby varieties. The adult ones have a black glaze and the babies are smaller and more transparent.

Both taste a lot like greasy popcorn with a buttery aftertaste.

Some vendors top the delicacy with a bit of chili powder.

Price: RMB 15 (US$2.4) per stick

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2. Silkworm cocoons

Beijing Donghuamen street food -- inline 2Spongy, slimy, silky, and likely to burn your mouth.

With a crispy dark brown outer shell, the silkworm cocoon is not the most palatable insect. It’s spongy on the inside with a bit of slime.

It has a nutty flavor similar to shrimp, but some people find its texture plain disgusting.

It’s hot inside and can burn your tongue if you’re not careful.

Price: RMB 15 per stick

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3. Centipedes 

Beijing Donghuamen street food -- inline 3Centipedes have so many legs, They won't notice if you just nibble off one or two ...

It’s hard to maneuver this long and leggy insect into mouth. They’re bitter, but taste better seasoned with salt and pepper.

Bring some dental floss -- their sharp legs will get stuck in your teeth.

Price: RMB 30 per stick

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4. Locusts

Beijing Donghuamen street food -- inline 4Will McDonald's cotton on and launch the "McLocust Happy Meal"?

Chewing on locusts is nothing new in Asia. Japanese and Thais are partial to them too.

Donghuamen vendors tout these six-legged insects as an environmentally friendly alternative to meat, and also for their high fiber content.

Loaded with protein, deep-fried locust tastes a bit like fried chicken.

Price: RMB 18 per stick

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5. Sea horses

Beijing Donghuamen street food -- inline 5French people eat horses. Chinese eat sea horses.

Another valuable item for TCM, sea horses are said to possess medicinal qualities that boost your kidneys.

TCM buffs boil sea horses in soup, but in Donghuamen these marine delicacies are dipped in oil and fried on a stick.

It's one of the most expensive items on the street.

To me, they taste like dried fish with a hint of garlic. Others say it tastes like fishy bacon.

Price: RMB 50 per stick

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Dong'anmen Dajie, at the north end of Wangfujing 东城区东安门大街王府井靠北; 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. All these insects are for sale at multiple vendors in the market.

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in New York and Los Angeles.

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