Food shouldn’t be scary. When I started writing this column eight months ago, I looked at it as a way to share food and learn about other cultures, even if the food might be different from what most of us are used to.
What’s scary for some is just food to others.
I once asked chef Chai Chaowasaree, who grew up in Thailand, about the grossest food he’d ever eaten, and he replied, “Goat cheese.”
He’d never eaten it growing up, and when you think about it, goat cheese is really spoiled milk.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
That said, this week’s column is on “beondegi,” Korean silkworm larvae, which look like cockroaches without legs. Maybe that’s a little scary.
When the silk cocoons are boiled to make silk threads, the pupae are a byproduct. Somewhere amid centuries of silk production, people began eating them. It’s a common street food in Korea and other parts of the world, such as Thailand and Vietnam, where silk is produced.
Silkworm larvae are sold in Korean stores here, and frozen silkworms are sold in Chinatown.
It’s a secret menu item in many Korean restaurants, where the chef might have a can or two in the cupboard, or you can bring your own and they’ll cook it for you.
Those restaurants include Aloha Lounge (3435 Waialae Ave.), a hideaway neighborhood bar in Kaimuki behind Town restaurant.
Co-owner Susie Pyo grew up eating beondegi, and every so often she’ll get a craving, so she usually keeps a few cans in the kitchen.
“You can eat it as a pupu with beer,” she said.
The silkworm pupae come cooked in the grayish liquid they were boiled in.
Pyo heats up a can and adds chili powder, green onions and carrots for color.
“It tastes like wet beef jerky,” she said. “It is a really healthy food, good for your skin, everything, a lot of protein. It make you beautiful just like me.” She laughed.
Well, if it could make me beautiful, I’d better take a taste.
“Close your eyes and eat it,” Pyo said, noticing my hesitation.
I kept my eyes open and took a bite.
The pupae are crisp on the outside, because of the insect exoskeleton, and mushy on the inside. They taste like spicy, crunchy boiled peanuts. The spiciness, from the Korean chili powder, improves the flavor of the rather bland bugs.
If you can get over the way they look and you want to try something different, silkworm larvae are an easy-to-make snack.
This is my last snack for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. I’m taking a new job next week. But while I won’t be writing this column, I’ll still be eating new foods.
You should, too.
Food should be an adventure, a way to open your mind and your taste buds to new experiences.
As long as the food is safe and prepared by someone who knows what they are doing, go ahead.
You should eat it.
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Cockroaches are delicious too.