This and the next post are about the so-called “dark cuisine”, which refers to unconventional (either the ingredients or the cooking method) dishes that most people find hard to accept. Example: fried wall lizard, meat-flavoured ice cream, century egg, live octopus, etc.
Read on at your own risk.
Question: what is the most feared creature in the world?
Answer: Barbecue patrons.
Reason: They eat anything and everything.
Their smiles mean only one thing: some poor flora or fauna is going on the skewer.
Liaoyuan, Jilin Province
An ordinary scene: a group of customers enjoy some barbecue after darkness falls.
Customers joke around with each other.
Xiaojun, the owner of the barbecue stand, focuses on what he is doing.
The pupae have natural predators such as frogs and lizards, but none of the reptiles and amphibians are as fearsome as the humans from the northeastern parts of China.
A customer swears by these insects whose original contribution to human society was production of silk: the nutrition contained in one silkworm pupa is equivalent to that of three eggs.
Xiaojun shares his expertise: pupae have to be grilled slowly, until they are crispy.
When the pupae get pierced by the skewer and go on the grill, they are still alive.
Protected by the tough cocoon, they are not easy to cook.
烤蚕蛹 grilled silkworm pupae
The pupae are eaten with their cocoon still intact. Bite into the cocoon, slightly salty juice squirts out. The pupae have turned into a solid state. Protein.
The thick cocoon makes it hard for flavours to be absorbed into the meat, hence the heavy dose of spices.
Another way of preparing the pupae is grilling them in an aluminium foil container.
The rest of the pupae, who luckily escape the maws of the barbecue patrons, survive into autumn and emerge as adult moths.
But even with wings, they still can’t escape the clutches of the barbecue chef.
Xiaojun has been waiting for the moths. Their wings are removed, and they are strung up on a skewer.
First they are grilled over a strong fire to turn their outer layer crispy.
Then they are grilled over a small fire to slowly cook their insides.
烤蛾子 grilled moth
Some silkworms won’t even make it to the teenage (pupa) and middle-age (moth) stage. They would be cooked when they are still green larvae.
Early summer green larvae are at their fattest.
When squeezed, a black liquid squirts out of the larvae.
All the inside stuff is squeezed out of the larvae. The focus of the barbecue is on the larvae’s skin.
They have to be grilled slowly.
烤蚕蛹 grilled silkworm larvae
Like the director says, the silkworm’s entire life has been pre-arranged from the moment it’s born: from larvae to pupae to moths, each stage of their life will be spent over a grill.
Attention silkworms: avoid Liaoyuan when you travel to Jilin, and avoid this man called Xiaojun.
Attention dark cuisine lovers: bring a bottle of baijiu when you find Xiaojun, as he doesn’t grill the larvae for just anybody.
Baise, Guangxi Province
Dark cuisine is not unique to Jilin. Women chefs here are just as fearsome.
The old street Sankoujing is the unofficial club of all dark cuisine enthusiasts.
This is Pingjie, the queen of barbecue.
What is her specialty?
One customer says that he especially enjoys the way it feels when the mysterious barbecue explodes in his mouth.
Another says it’s both exciting and scary. And she still wants to try it.
So what is it?
Caution: you can still exit the post if you want. I shall not be held responsible if you throw up or have a heart attack.
(My trypophobia is acting up again . . .)
Pig’s eyeball, with the surrounding tissue and fat.
The skewer passes through the tissue. This is to keep the eyeball intact.
It takes some skills to grill the eyeballs. Too much heat or too long, the eyeballs will explode.
They have to be constantly turned on the grill for twenty minutes.
烤猪眼睛 grilled pig’s eyeballs
There’s also skill required in eating the eyeballs. The insides are hot, and you can’t bite into it too quickly or your tongue will be scalded.
You should wait for about ten minutes.
Place the entire eyeball into your mouth, and bite down.
Fluid squirts out.
Those who’ve tried it say that the lens and the cornea are actually crispy.
A customer says that her friends who come from Beijing always order two types of barbecue. One is the pig’s eyeball.
The other one is . . . She looks down with a coy smile.
Duck intestines? Aren’t they a common dish in hotpot?
This is not intestines.
It’s not even duck.
It comes from the same animal as the eyeballs.
It’s pig’s penis.
They say it’s crispy, and doesn’t have any of the feared odours you’d expect. (I’ll take your word for it.)
烤猪鞭 grilled pig’s penis
To be continued . . .
I have a feeling that this is the only animal in China that’s truly safe from the barbecue gluttons.