Doesn’t that look delicious?
This is beondegi, a snack food in Korea. According to my friend from work, beondegi are caterpillar or silkworm pupae in cocoons. She used to eat these when she was little; that is, until she found out what they were and stopped. Smart girl. Wikipedia says pupae “have a hard protective coating and often use camouflage to evade potential predators.” It’s too bad that the shell and camouflage don’t protect against hungry South Koreans.
I passed by street vendors’ big boiling bowls of beondegi several times before I stopped to try them out. I was travelling with friends and we decided (or rather, they decided) that we should all have our first tastes together. So we paid 2000 won for a cup and sat ourselves down.
We all tried one---just one---and it wasn’t too bad. The hard shells are apparently protecting some juices, which, combined with the smell, created a bad taste with a worse aftertaste. But eating one is actually okay. Later one of my friends had the bright idea to dare us to eat the whole cup for 10 000 won. We all laughed.
“Not going to happen,” I joked. “Maybe half the cup for 20 000.”
I was soon eating those words---and half a cup of beondegi.
The group divided the beondegi into two cups, giving one to me. They also got me a can of Coke, just to tease me during the process because I wasn’t allowed to have any while there were still beondegi to be eaten. (Even so, I thought of it like a child's blanket: it was comforting to know it was there.) I further divided the beondegi I was supposed to eat into four or five cups, knowing I couldn’t possibly eat them all in one gulp.
Time went by slowly. And the chews were long.
The highlights of the adventure would be the multiple times I (thank goodness) successfully kept the beondegi in my mouth and in my stomach. One, like I said, isn’t so bad. The juices and smells are limited and can be kept under control. A dozen at a time? Not so fun.
The juices were overwhelming; the smells were overpowering. Pieces (read: insect body parts) kept getting stuck in my teeth like taffy. I attempted in vain to keep the pupae off my tongue to avoid the horrid taste.
It seemed to never end; I was beginning the think they were multiplying on me. But, a half cup of beondegi after my ordeal began, I was rewarded with 20 000 won, a Coke, some fruity Menthos, and the title of Princess Beondegi.