Eating insects in Beijing

I call my local guide on the third evening in Beijing. I feel like exploring and he suggests Donghuamen night market located in the northern end of Wangfujing. He is a jolly chap in his 20’s. I had bumped into him on my first evening in a restaurant along Jonguancun Avenue. Sometimes this Karma thing is true…how else do you explain walking into a restaurant and the first thing you see is a guy in a checked shirt, eating a mix of potatoes, beans, chicken, peas, cabbage and rice in a gallon of thick brown broth? The menu immediately sells him out and I salute “mundu wa nyumba”. Opposite him is his friend in another checked shirt eating all those constituents in a gallon of thick brown broth. I must say I didn’t have to pay for my dinner that day…i was home away from home! That’s how I met Denoo my guide…he became the go-to guy. He happens to be a graduate student from Kenya on a UCAS scholarship! God bless China!

It’s easy to confuse the place for your typical food market. The place is always jammed with locals and tourists eating, chewing half mouth, chewing full mouth, talking, taking photos, others amazed by the mass and variety of food in just one 200-meter-long food street landmark. The food stalls are steaming with fresh food. As I get closer to one of them, I noticed that the food was not your typical type. It’s Chinese cuisine mostly. It is a hot spot for daring foodies giving more than what I expected or even bargained for. I realized that my taste buds might never forget this culinary experience.

the-donghuamen-night-market-2
Donghuamen market

So there I was, standing in this small alleyway, an array of unnerving food in front of me, and I had to pick some for dinner. It took me a while I can tell you. I saw it, smelled it, walked past it once, walked past again, clicked away on my new Chinese branded phone though they didn’t quite like the clicking.  I was enthralled. I had harvested, cooked and eaten insects before but I didn’t expect to see the options I had before me. My options were many: cicadas, sea stars, and sea horses, locusts, silk worms, snake, lizard, centipedes, frogs all on a stick!

Well, I was hungry and I was here to experience some new flavors. My first choice went to locusts on a skewer. They didn’t look too bad. Not too adventurous I know but it was a beginning. We eat them where I come from after all. I could go with eating the Cricket as well. I farm millions of those and chew five toasted ones every morning. The snake was alright, the flesh smelled between chicken and octopus. It was not bad, quite flavorful actually. Now, this is when it got interesting! One display got my attention. Scorpions on skewers! When I asked the man behind the counter if they were fresh, he pulled out a bucket from under the table, a big smile on his face. Tens of these little guys were crawling all over.

crickets
Crickets on skewers

I hold the bragging right to being entomophagous in the South of Sahara; a daring edible insect’s enthusiast but NO. Scorpions wouldn’t do not matter what the vendor says. Not even if the vendor told me that frying the scorpions neutralizes their poison and their tail ironically is the most nutritious part rich with omega 3 fats. No! My mind was working 150%, trying to find a good reason to swallow a seahorse on a stick.

Well, I was here for adventure. I settled for sea horse and scorpion after writing my will and safely depositing it with my now legal guide, Denoo. I opened my mouth, and took a good bite. Most were crunchy and tasted a bit like fried chicken and roasted nuts. The rest went down very quickly! Denoo kept wondering what kind of curse had come upon me. He thought I should be taking photos. Only. I came to see not eat. One day he will understand…maybe he will.

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21 thoughts on “Eating insects in Beijing

    1. By the way…did you ever go back to the market and try the scorpion? It has this euphoric feeling of kuwa mnoma kama scorpion

    1. haha…i wanted kuwa mkali kama scorpion. it reminds me of those days we used to feed our village dogs live wasps…ati ndio zikuwe kali!

  1. Great read, at least the fact that am reading this is a testament that you survived to tell the story. Great work with insects research though.

  2. I bet this needs an expert to work on them well by removing unwanted parts before cooking and consuming or Iam I mistaken?

    1. good thing is, you can consume a whole insect without removing any parts. So chew the whole cricket with no worries. Read this post to see what i mean

  3. MULIRO WAPAKALA SAMUEL
    AG242-0357/2014
    I’m very amazed with variety of insects eaten in Beijing. Us in Africa especially Kenyans we really appreciates smaller percentage of these wild insects eating including termites, ants and grasshoppers. The consumption of these insects is consumed based on the culture and the sites they are found. Example, termites is much eaten by Kalenjins, which they gather during the wettest season of the year. Luyha’s and Kisii consume white ants while the Lou’s consumes grasshoppers as their delicious insects and are mainly found in western part of Kenya. That is, Homabay, Migori, Siaya, Kisii and Kakamega. Vernacularly known as chiswua. I guess kikuyus have no ideas over the consumption of these insects since they are hardly found in central part of Kenya.
    Though many varieties of insects mention on the menu are found here in Kenya, less efforts is applied in appreciating them as potential source of food which can be farmed and used as food. I personally I appreciate insect eating since I come from these natural zones part of western Kenya where snakes, snails, crickets, crabs, scorpions, termites, black ants are in plenty provided naturally, no farming of them is done, though nothing is done on them in terms of meat neither research.
    It is ironical that African suffer from malnutrition yet there is broad spectrum of varieties of edible insects lying out there which many local cultures regard to them as wild and part of natural anaestification yet in Beijing these insects are; cultured, bred, raised and harvested for human consumption. This clearly depicts the level of knowledge on insect consumption is lower in Kenya than Beijing.
    Malnutrition has been a menace in Kenya. In order to fight it, we have to embrace insect consumption since insects are readily available, mature faster as compared to animal and crops, cheap to raise compared to animals and plants and are richer in proteins as compared to other proven edible animals, so to my view, to make the public aware of this adverse importance of insect, we need to educate farmers on different technics of raising edible insects, public awareness on importance of insects, funding to insect farmers and also establishment of relevant industries to process harvested insects. This will help to reducing the level of malnutrition as one of 2030 sustainable development goal in ensuring good health to the nation.
    Insects’ consumption should be encouraged at all costs since they are major source of micro-nutrients which are very vital in diet in human health, create market for small scale insect farm-holders, source of proteins, source of income, earns government foreign income in case of export and above all insects mature faster as compared to others sources of meat; beef, pork, mutton, chevron etc. They require less laborer in term of feeding, security and space since they breed in a free environment with minimum manipulations. Food serving industries should encourage the consumption by incorporating these diets in their menus and advising thereafter.

  4. Wambugu W Paul
    AG242-0295/2013
    I tend to think that eating insects such as scorpions and crickets among other insects may be scary but i do support feeding on them depending on their effect on human. The type of food we do feed right now were initially said to be poisonous however on attempt to feed on them people realized that it was not poisonous at all. Due to this i suggest that our feeding habits and what we feed on is influenced by attitude and beliefs that we strongly hold that prevent us from feeding on this insect. I can remember feeding on termites when i was young especially during the rainy season, we used to fry them and they were quite delicious.
    People do fear feeding on insect due to the environment they grow in such as house fly, cockroaches and beetles which are usually very dirty full of pathogens and the so called germs. Other insect thrive well in environment where there are wastes especially human wastes and other organic waste. however if we consider rearing these insects in a safe environment free from all sources of human wastes and organic wastes therefore means that they can be safe for use as food especially house fly and cockroaches which we do so much try to eliminate. With the change in climate and increased food scarcity it might happen that we shall one time be rearing these insects as a source of food for us and our generations. Each community in this world has different views on the type of food that is eaten by a different community ,like in Kenya we view snakes as poisonous and rather not safe for food while the same snake form part of the staple food in China and other parts of the world.
    Change in attitude and beliefs and going beyond our normal sources of food, insects can be a great alternative during scarcity and as a food security measure due to the following reasons:
    1. Reproduction rate of insects and patterns.
    Insect has a very high reproduction rate which results in huge swarms of insects such as locust within a short period of time. Therefore if used as an alternative food source, food security will increase proportionally.
    2. Variety of insects
    Insects have very huge varieties which are edible such as crickets which are mainly fed by the royal class in some country due to their nutrient value and flavor. Due to this variety insects have a very wide range of nutrients that are available in the food we eat daily and hence will easily complement the food we eat every day when we change our attitude and beliefs on our food sources.
    3. Negligible toxicity
    Many insects have negligible toxicity upon feeding such as scorpion viewed poisonous upon biting but has negligible impact on feeding.
    High levels of rare important nutrients
    Insects such as scorpion initially termed as poisonous is a source of Omega 3 fats which is required bythe body but rarely found in the food we daily feed on. I recommend feeding on insects as a complement to other food sources.

  5. Kemboi. K. Dennis
    AG242-0344/2014
    Come to think of eating insect, one imagines of something being out of the norm. For me is like you are on the survival series as shown in Bear Grylls Escape From Hell program on discovery family where you can make food out of anything within your surroundings to survive. But this time it is that you are eating an insect on your own volition. Insects as many people perceive are just tiny thing that make things happen e.g. pollination and that an imagination of it being on your dinner plate away from their thoughts. Our traditions are so dear to us that one can die of hunger when you can grab a fly and make a meal out of it. Imagine for instance you farm snakes you will be branded a witch as we see snakes as sheitani like once my grandma told me. Can this be sited for the reason why Africans succumb to hunger where nature offers are taken to the drain?
    Insect for a fact is a better source of nutrient especially protein compared to some of the common sources we utilize. For instance adult locust has high crude protein compared to beef. Insects also release less greenhouse gases compared to cattle and pigs. On economic approach insect are cheaper to feed compared to livestock. They are cold blooded in nature and require less energy to stay warm and therefore its feed is converted to protein. For crickets they require less 12 times amount of feed to produce the same amount of protein as that of chicken. Also they are less likely to cause disease compared to animals in that most of the disease that are zoonotic are from animal origin and insects occurs as vectors. For a fact insects are everywhere and why not make a meal out of it. In Venezuela the Goliath trianchurus a spider the size of a dinner plate is eaten by the Verona tribe siting reasons of the tropical forest having less protein.
    But the extremes in which people turn insects to food is somehow disturbing to me in that how do you make a meal out of scorpion. I believe we should not being preying on a predator. When I see a scorpion I see death not imagining a less appetizing meal out of it. Although cooked you fear for your life seeing twitching of its sting or it might turn around and make you pay for turning it to a meal. Eating of insects however may subject one to allergens, ant nutrient substance and may have pesticides .Some may also produce toxins.
    But I think it is high time for us as Africans to start exploring the diversity of food sources avoiding all the red lights on this road. Thinking of our common diets of githeri, mukimu, matoke among others you cannot imagine of how life is boring. Might this be the reason why you can know what your neighbor is cooking and the ingredient they use from the aroma produce by being used to the same food recipe common to use? Insect for food.

  6. NAME: CHESIRE J RUTH
    REG NO: AG242-0338/2014
    CRITICS ON EATING OF INSECTS IN BEIJING.
    Eating of insects is a great idea and according to me I could have been selective on the type of insects to eat due to culture, norms, taboos and personal likes and preferences. The types I would not consider eating even when extremely hungry are snakes, centipedes, caterpillars and scorpions because of the poison content and their scary looks bringing about a great phobia that even if I were to eat would get traumatized. Some others like the frogs, crickets, cockroaches, housefly, aphids and beetles I would not go for them because of the disgusting feeling I might get after eating them. The type of insects I would go for are the grasshoppers and termites because of the history of having been used in the previous years as a source of food and still being eaten by some communities. The other type of the insects I would go for are the butterflies, bees, ladybird and wasps because of their appearance, attractiveness and for the products they produce like for bee the honey that it produces.
    Eating of insects is a nice and adaptive idea since they are readily available; abundant in the environment, cheap alternative source of food therefore I would completely agree the eating of some insects if not all of them. Food and agriculture organization of united states are promoting insect eating as nutritious way to meet the nutrient needs of humans though it has not always be considered as food. Grasshoppers contains between 14-28 grams of protein which translates to between 30-60% of 46 grams of women protein each day and 25-50% of 56 grams men need daily. Grasshoppers and crickets are a good source of unsaturated fats according to food and agriculture organization of the United Nations which help in lowering risk of heart disease. They also supply small amounts of iron.
    Red ants supplies about 14 grams of protein, according to national geographic website and also serves as a source of 5.7 milligrams of iron which is 71% of 8 milligrams men require each day and one-third of the 18 milligrams women require on daily basis. Ants are also good source of calcium. Beetles are among the richest insect source of protein, according to national geographic but the exact amounts depend on the type of beetle. A giant beetle supplied about 20 grams of protein same amount of June beetle supplies 13.4 and pal worm beetle can have as much as 36 grams of protein. Beetles also supply calcium and iron and a good dose of zinc. The exact amounts depend on size and variety of the beetle. Caterpillars are perfect sources of protein and other minerals. It contains 6.7 grams of protein and 13 milligrams of iron. Mopane caterpillar supplies 31-77 milligrams of iron, also supplies about one-fourth of potassium you need each day as well as 100 percent of copper required by the body according to food and agriculture organization of United Nations. Termites are a good source of hearth healthy unsaturated fats and 49 percent of their body contains beneficial nutrients. Therefore insect eating can complement meat eating since it has got the nutrients required from meat.

  7. REG NO: AG 242-0285/2013
    MUTHONI A.MWIRABUA
    Wow! This is more than interesting Doctor. I think This should not be a food only in Beijing Kenyans too should be accustomed to eating edible insects and of course the other countries that do not consume insects should divert from their negative thoughts towards insect eating. This will at least decrease the pressure of other protein sources such as beef, fish and chicken which are more expensive and less individuals can afford. That way insects will highly contribute to food security and act as an alternative source of meat production and fish meal. Insects are potentially highly nutritious source of food with high fat, protein, fibre, and micronutrients content. Insect farming is still at very early stage in Kenya but it could however increase with increase in availability of insects and government support which as a result will contribute to the growth of national economy.
    I wonder how people consider it weird therefore a problem in indulging American culture to consume these insects but are so comfortable in consuming Genetic Modified organisms (GMO) product! Many insects are healthier than GMOs we consume on daily basis.
    Worldwide there are millions of people malnourished for their sources of protein are short while the insects are lying everywhere. Why can’t they complement insect meat which are readily available and pocket friendly?
    I come from a culture where we more or less kill insects not because we want to eat them but for fun or the thought of they will cause harm or just killing them (except for termites during rainy seasons). However I am prepared to step outside of my cultural perception in search for a dinner at Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing. Very curious to see my first encounter with the worms, water beetle and bee cocoons. Unlike you doctor, I have never had an insect for food except for a cricket cookie I just tasted some few months ago in JKUAT, it was awesome. At least you had an idea of how roasted crickets tasted like and so you knew what you would choose.
    By 2050 there will be more than 9 billion people on the planet, the United Nations estimates that to feed sustainable food production will have to increase by 70˚. Insect meals should be considered. However I am impressed that we have already started consuming them, the carrying out the projects here at the university impresses me more I think this will at least form a platform to insect farming in Kenya. It will therefore be of great impact to organise some panels and speakers to educate the public about feeding the future with edible insects.
    Compared to raring of animals insect farming would require less energy resources, less space ,low maintenance cost and high conversion ratio(insects can convert 2kg feed into 1kg mass while a cow require 8kgs to convert 1kg body weight gain).
    Of course I can’t recall it all but I was told I chewed and swallowed a beetle when I was small. I never knew then, now I have insects’ facts. See us in the world of “not an insect, not a food”

  8. The article about the eating insects in Beijing was quite interesting since it was creating the curious impression about the experience. But I think it would be more interesting if you could have avoided too much of personal information which was not necessary like about the type of phone: you could have just said you made a call and many others.
    I think insects are tasty. This reminds me the early childhood back in lock village where we are enjoying to think out of box and tried to eat grasshopper, ants and termites. Though most western often turns up their nose at the idea of eating small-creature. These animals have numerous attribute that make them attractive source of highly nutritious and sustainable food. Insects are all over the nations which covers the 80% of total animals and available. Very few country especially ethic group eat insects. From a nutritional point of view insects have significant protein content. Depending on the many factors its content varies especially of that of dry matter. Insects contain reasonable amount of minerals (k, Na,Ca,Cu,Fe,Zu,Mn and P).They can offer all 9 essential amino acids that animal can do. Because of their high protein and fat content and their reproductive efficiency. Insects hold great promise for thwarting an impending global food crisis. Human currently consume at least 40% of potential terrestrial productively 30% of the land on earth is used to pasture and feed livestock. The population is expanding every year and the demand for food will increase dramatically over the coming decade. Climate change, reduced productivity of agricultural land, overfishing, dwindling freshwater resources pollution increases will place disproportionate burden on earth’s ecosphere.
    I think something has to change.to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and reducing mortality rates can be directly addressed by expanding consumption of edible insects. There is indeed the call for using insects to improve human food security. Insects should be used as alternative food source implementation of insect based diet can be an important part of our future.eatting insects instead of cattle is also good for environment. Insects can be produced more sustainably and with much smaller ecological than ivestock.Due to the fact that insects are poikilothermic or cold blooded and thus less energy to maintain body temperature. This efficiency reduces the amount of animal feed needed to generate the same amount of meat. Many insects such as flies, crickets, grasshoppers and beetles can consume agricultural wastes that humans and traditional livestock cannot. Insects do not compete with human food supply as vertebrates livestock do such as cows, poultry which are primary fed with grains.
    Insects are also easy to farm in large quantities using very little space compared to many other animals. Insects have substantially higher productivity and shorter life span s they can be grown rapidly. For example crickets can lay 1200 and 1500 eggs in 3-4 weeks. Whereas beef cattle requires more time. Insects use much less water than vertebrate livestock because they obtain hydration directly from food. The un FAO estimates that they are already more than 1400 species of edible insects currently consumed by people.
    Once technology are developed to produce insect based food ingredients they can be incorporated into numerous consumer items hence insects hold a great potential to contribute to food security.

    1. “would have avoided too much of personal information which was not necessary like about the type of phone: you could have just said you made a call and many others”..are you sure you got this from this post? I doubt…but anyway its my blog and i post whatever phone i want to post. Large phones, small phones, smart phones, not-so-smart phones…gerrit?

  9. Ag 242-0337/2014
    LINDA CHEPKURUI
    EATING INSECT IN BEIJING
    Its funny how Deno and his friend take their naivety “Ushamba” to a far away country; a mix of potatoes , beans, chicken ,peas and rice really! They must be from central part of Kenya. People from this area never lack potatoes” Waru” in their meal. They must have been lucky, I never thought they would find all those constituents “Mashakura” in Beijing. And why wouldn’t they want to try something new. If I ever got that chance, I wouldn’t touch what I always eat in Kenya. I would go for any appealing food that comes my way just to kill my curiosity.
    It must have been hard to chose what to have for dinner; cicadas, sea stars and seahorses, locusts, silk worms, snake, lizards, centipedes and frogs, none is better than the other. Personally the only insect have eaten is termites “ kumbe kumbe” in our local language. Its tasty. Its Prepared like groundnuts. I wouldn’t mind trying snake or lizards as long as I don’t know that’s what am eating. Anyway how do you know this is snake or lizard? I assume once its cooked it loses its shape. I can imagine a whole snake on my plate and the smell? I would wish to know how fried snake smells. Culture and religion has blinded us until we can’t think outside the box. Eating insects, snakes or lizards is an abomination and its disgusting because we have grown knowing that. Perhaps that’s why Deno decided to stick to his “mashakura”.
    Eating locusts and crickets must have been adventurous. I have seen them and I can’t wait to try them some day. This was interesting Scorpion on skewers. I like that part where you ask the man on the counter if they were fresh and he pulls out a bucket from under the table with a big smile. And there they are crawling all over. It must have been scary at first sight. I would have taken to my heels. I thought scorpion are poisonous and can bite, so how do you even harvest them and cook? It’s ironic that scorpion are the most nutritious with Omega 3 fats but the thought of chewing them its not only disgusting but also scary. It would take anyone a lot of thinking to do that.
    It’s crazy, writing a will before eating sea horse and scorpion. What was the will for? So it was a dare and die issue? And why would anyone think he would die for eating insects yet other people eat? If it was not safe then I guess so many people would be dead by now for eating insect. How you come to taste and realize they were crunchy and tasted like fried chicken and roasted nuts makes me want to try them in future as long as it does not send me several times to the “common room”. Personally I think animal or insect is edible only that we are made to believe they are not safe. Perhaps that’s why Deno thought you had been cursed to have eaten that.

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