FOOD KOREA

Korean Life | Eating My First (and Last) Silk Worm Pupae (번데기)

April 21, 2017

This might sound strange, but one of the top foods I wanted to try since moving to Korea was beondegi (번데기) or silk worm pupae.  It’s a common snack sold by traditional Korean food stall vendors that we see every time we attend a street fair or festival. The worms are cooked in a large metal bowl and served by the heaping spoonful into a quart-sized paper bowl, the distinct earthy smell noticeable from all the way down the street. I wanted to try the worms not for any Fear Factor sort of reasons, but simply out of curiosity, because maybe there was a reason that these food stalls could be found everywhere in Korea. Maybe it was really tasty? Maybe I was missing out on something? Maybe they would turn out to be the most delicious thing I have ever eaten? The problem was that I only wanted to taste ONE silk worm, but could never bring myself to buy — and eat — an entire gloopy bucket of it.

While my sister was in town, we ate at a restaurant where one of the sides (banchan) was a shallow bowl of silk worms.  It’s not a normal side dish to serve in Korean restaurants so my eyes immediately zoomed in on the bowl of worms sitting on another table just before we sat down for dinner.  I wasn’t really in the mood for worms and told Sly to tell the waiter that we would not be eating worms tonight. I got up to use the restroom and when I returned there was a bowl of worms on the table. I suppose this was what is known as “fate.”

It was now or never.

My feeling on trying new and “exotic” foods is this: I will try practically anything at least once, but I won’t eat something purely for shock value.  Most foods that other people find “weird” and “gross” are things I actually find very tasty. With the exception of bugs. Eating bugs in bug form (things made with cricket powder or cricket protein don’t really bother me) has always sort of skeeved me out. I’m not sure I could ever wrap my head around eating a beetle or a roach, but I have always been just the tiniest bit curious about eating worms. Didn’t I watch a show where the host described eating tiny larvae as similar to eating “nutty popcorn?”

Let’s just say the silk worms pretty much tasted exactly how it smelled: earthy and very dirt-like with an odd chemical aftertaste. The texture, which I worried would be like biting into a big, juicy blueberry, turned out to be similar to a chewy piece of chicken. Overall, not the best thing I’ve ever eaten, but also not the worst. If I had nothing else to eat and/or I was invited to someone’s house where worms were on the menu, I would eat it again, but otherwise I probably wouldn’t choose to do so unless they were prepared in a different way.

Eating silk worms in Korea: check.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Funnelcloud Rachel April 22, 2017 at 1:13 am

    YOU DID IT! YOU DID IT!

    “I wasn’t really in the mood for worms” AHAHAHAHA! When exactly is one in the mood for worms?!

    I love the video so much! And while you said it wasn’t the worst thing you’ve ever tasted, your expression in the video did not convince me that this is something I need to try.

    Who ate the rest of the worms?

    • Reply veronika April 22, 2017 at 8:01 am

      I don’t know maybe some people get a hankering for worms because they are sold everywhere here! 😉

      Last night we went out with some friends and we talked about worms. One girl – a born and raised Korean – said she didn’t like the taste of worms but loved the smell. We were like whaaaat? To me the smell is the absolute worst aspect of the worm experience, as my sis said, “smells like chemicals.” We ended up returning to the same worm restaurant (actually it’s not, it’s a stew resto) and the other girl in our group decided to try the worms. She’s American so she had no idea about the worms. Anyway she ate one and said it tasted “spicy and a bit like shrimp paste.” We we like what the hell. Then she ate another. I was so confused that she didn’t think it tasted like dirt that I almost tried it again! Different strokes for different folks I guess.

      I know my facial expressions aren’t very convincing but I think part of it was my brain trying to process the flavor…and then coming to the conclusion that yup, tastes like dirt. And I even like earthy things! There was something chalky about the texture as well and once I finished chewing my mouth felt dry and I couldn’t get the dirt taste out. I really think a huge part of why I didn’t like the worm was because of the way they were prepared – like stewed in their own juices…

      Sadly nobody finished the worms so I suppose they were tossed, which was why I didn’t want them in the first place. I don’t like wasting food, even if it’s worms!

      • Reply Funnelcloud Rachel April 22, 2017 at 2:38 pm

        Hmmm…the chalky texture sounds like the worst part to me, and I’m not even a person with texture issues. But chalky doesn’t sound pleasant. That and the “stewed in their own juices” part. Mmm…bug juice!

        I’m still trying to figure out why land bugs seem so unappealing, but shrimp are completely acceptable. They really are just sea bugs.

        • Reply veronika April 22, 2017 at 3:25 pm

          Have you seen slipper lobsters? They look soooo bug-like that it’s kind of disturbing. We almost tried one at a seafood resto a couple days ago, but they ran out.

          Also, I’m not 100% sure the worms are stewed in their own juices. Haha. But it certainly seems so. Honestly if they fried them super crispy I bet they’d taste good.

  • Reply Funnelcloud Rachel April 22, 2017 at 1:16 am

    P.S. I was wondering what you’d been up to lately. Now I know! Eating bugs! Next up: Dung Beetles!

    • Reply veronika April 22, 2017 at 8:09 am

      Haha! After we returned to KR from PH, my sister came to visit! It’s been a lot of fun, and lots of trying new foods and places. I also unwillingly tried “live” moving octopus which I DID NOT WANT TO EAT! Sly made the mistake of ordering a combo seafood platter not realizing it was raw, and not realizing the raw items would include squirming octopus legs and something called a “penis fish.” I have had raw octo before which is why I knew I didn’t love it – it’s just flavorless to me. So to eat the squirming tentacles with the suckers still clinging to stuff was pretty rough. I tried a few pieces and charcoal grilled the rest which was about a million times better. The “penis fish” looks so unappealing when it’s live, but when it’s cleaned and sliced, it looks like clam strips with a similar texture. Not bad actually. If someone fried those things up, I probably wouldn’t know the diff.

      And no dung beetles! No! Crunch…crunch…crunch…squish. No.

  • Reply Kevin April 23, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Surely they didn’t let you be the only one to try the worm…I love the look you give the camera at the end (“so which on of you ordered this?”). At least they weren’t raw and wriggling.

    Keeping Good Thoughts…

    • Reply veronika April 26, 2017 at 8:02 am

      I was the onlu person eating worm (singular) that night. Sly has eaten them befor and the sis was like nope.

  • Reply Kim April 26, 2017 at 1:32 am

    Oh. Wow. Wait… WOW. YOU ATE SILKWORMS?! That is CRAAAAZY to me! I can’t even eat simple foods like tomatoes or eggplant without frowning. You are very brave and adventurous! Cheers to marking something off your bucket list!

    Kim
    Simply Lovebirds

    • Reply veronika April 26, 2017 at 8:06 am

      Tomatoes and eggplant? Hahaha! Those sound exquisite compared to silkworms! Eating bugs, in particular these worms, has always been a mental roadblock for me. Now that I’ve tried it, I’m not as wary of eating bugs. Not saying I’ll eat this exact type of worm again, but maybe if they were prepared differently?

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