Sheep penis? Grilled sea snake? Fried scorpion? Over the years I have seen markets all over the world but the Beijing Night Market, Donghuamen put them all in the shade.
To be fair, this isn’t truly a market, but more of what the residents of Singapore would call a hawker centre or what we might call a food court in North America. The colourful stalls in the centre of Beijing are filled nightly with the most extraordinary collection of food. Those three items above are really on the menu, though quite honestly, I couldn’t have identified a sheep’s penis from a strip of chicken.
The stall holders would urge me – reaching out with a skewer of sea slug or something less identifiable. But most were reluctant to have their photos taken. Here are a few of my extraordinary finds.
What’s on offer you ask? Check out these menu boards at the Beijing Night Market: centipedes, water beetles, fried silk worms. It all sounds so appetizing, I just can’t decide.
But the boards don’t begin to tell the story. It’s such an amazing display of fare taken from every part of the animal kingdom, that it’s positively mind-boggling.
Indeed, the Chinese are to be commended for making use of creatures like crickets and beetles which are high in protein and don’t require vast amounts of the world’s resources to produce. The problem is that we simply aren’t used to thinking of scorpions as being part of our diet.
And while we eat a great deal of seafood, we rarely approach starfish or sea urchins as a possibility. Yet sea urchins are being touted as a sustainable and healthy alternative and many progressive restaurants are serving these.
After all, lobster was once considered a poor man’s food. In Nova Scotia, prisoners complained of being fed lobster too often and servants in Massachusetts sought legal means to limit the frequency with which lobster was served to them to twice a week!
The foods here may seem unfamiliar to us, but a visit to the Beijing Night Makret is patently an evening excursion for both couples….
and families. Several families strolled along. I can’t imagine what the children in my family would say to fried scorpion or grilled water beetle!
And one of the favourites for children might be sweet rather than savoury. Who could resist these and what an incredible sugar hit they offer!
Indeed, this man closed his eyes to everything except a skewer of round red plums coated in sugar. He literally walked along and kept shutting his eyes as if to eschew temptation.
I have no idea what some of these things might be. I find myself trolling my mental list of creatures to see what they might possibly resemble.
So much I simply can’t identify here. If you know what those round black things might be, please let me know.
By the way, if all this isn’t tempting your Western taste buds, there’s always Starbucks nearby. Donhuamen was recently closed by the city, a move applauded by Beijing residents as they felt that the offerings had become outrageous. However, it should be noted that the Chinese do, in fact, eat many of these foods. Insects are a good source of protein. Indeed, crickets are now available for consumption in North America. For more on China’s culture go here