How to Eat Fried Scorpion
First, you drink. You buy a beer on the way to the food stand, and once you’ve arrived, you and all your co-teachers pitch in for a table tap, a plastic 5-liter balloon filled with Tsingtao. Everyone gets another round.
Second, you make friends with the guy who owns the food stand. He stands there and eggs you on as you laugh and cringe and point to the skewers of grasshoppers, silkworm cocoons, cicadas, starfish and, of course, several different sizes of scorpion.
Third, if you are a squeamish American (and, let me just say, even our ex-soldier did it so apparently this particular brand of squeamishness is not limited to the faint-of-heart), you remove the scorpion’s stinger by pinching it off with your fingertips. If you are very unlucky, you pinch it in the wrong direction and wind up with the fried stinger stuck in your fingertip. I took extra caution to avoid that strange and unpleasant happenstance after watching the gal next to me.
Fourth, you all take a moment to sit and stare at this little monstrosity that you are about to put in your mouth. The cameras come out. People are posing with their scorpions. The Beijing locals are looking on with interest. Hilarity ensues.
Fifth, and very important, you have a scorpion “cheers” where you clink scorpions (their legs tend to fall off when you do this) and clutch your beer with your free hand.
With a rousing cry of “Ganbei!” down the hatch go the scorpions, and there are mingled looks of surprise and delight as you realize they are actually quite crunchy and salty and delicious, and not at all unpleasant. Which makes you brave enough to try the other bizarre (I hesitate to call them) foods around the table.
Which may have been a terrible idea. The grasshoppers are okay, also crunchy and salty but they have fairly massive heads and those are quite bitter; the cicadas are apparently just incredibly, incredibly chewy (I artfully neglected to grab one of these); silkworm cocoons mostly taste like dirt that has a slight crunch. And the starfish! O, the starfish. It begins as a sort of crunchy, chewy, stale fish-stick taste that morphs into gritty, tasteless sand as you chew. And chew. And chew.
So what do you do? You wash it all down with your mug of Tsingtao, and grab another scorpion. Ganbei!