Santa Monica, California
Crickets and Scorpoins (Typhoon)
I have always had this dream of visiting Beijing for the sole purpose of getting a skewer of big, fat roasted scorpions. Scorpions come from the same class as spiders, but as members of the Arthropod crime family are also distantly related to lobsters, crabs, crayfish and shrimp. That having been said, it stands to reason that crunching into a size 10 scorpion should be akin to chewing on a small, thin-shelled lobster. Not having plane fare to China stuffed under the mattress, I opted to get them locally at Typhoon Restaurant in Santa Monica, California. I had heard that Typhoon had a special section of the menu featuring the targets of our flyswatters and anticipated six and eight-legged culinary delights. Typhoon is a trendy restaurant and bar decorated in wood, metal and glass with huge windows that wrap around the restaurant to provide a view of planes taking off and landing; in fact, you can even pull your private plane right up to the restaurant. Most of the menu items are Southeast Asian fusion, but the target of my gastronomic adventure was the insect menu, with scorpion being my top choice.
I ordered the scorpion, (which the menu informed was served “Singapore style” on shrimp toast) and “Taiwanese” crickets (stir-fried with chili peppers, garlic and served with potato strings). My only previous experience eating crickets was snacking on a single roasted cricket encased in a tiny block of chocolate, and I was excited about the prospect of being able to properly experience the taste. The wait staff was courteous, but the food seemed to take awhile to arrive. I envisioned one of the kitchen staff running around on the runway with an apron and a butterfly net trying to catch my meal. My mouth was watering with the thought of a nice platter of Emperor scorpions, poised with claws held high and having suffered the flames to defend their piece of shrimp toast turf. My anticipation turned to slight disappointment – I was given a plate with two pieces of bread about the size of the little rye toast you get in a bag of Gardetto’s, and fried into each was a tiny brown scorpion less than an inch and a half long. I was thinking of how to pry the tiny thing off the toast without severely dismembering it and met with success after some careful manipulation with the knife. They were mostly exoskeleton, and the closest thing I could compare the taste and texture to would be if you at the little fan tail on a fried shrimp. I can’t confirm whether the shrimp flavor came from the scorpions or the toast, but the tiny size of the scorpions didn’t provide much of an opportunity to find out. I’m guessing these are served as dares or for the gross-out factor so that diners can boast to their friends that they ate a scorpion, but it left me wanting something more substantial. If you want to try scorpion, this is as good as entry-level gets.
The crickets appeared to be in great supply. Apparently they had raided a pet shop or found a nest as my dinner plate was heavily populated with them. The crickets were mixed liberally with string potatoes (literally the width of a piece of string), diced chilis and chunks of raw garlic in a glorious mound of food. The only negative was that there was a little too much salt, and the garlic was overpowering. I actually picked out the little pieces of garlic and put them to the side – I can imagine how backwards it must have looked to bystanders with me picking food out of my bugs. Unlike the scorpions, the crickets were full of flavor – imagine the taste of a tiny salad shrimp wrapped in a walnut leaf and toasted and you get the idea of the taste and texture. I ate several by themselves first to get the taste, and then started mixing them with the potatoes. Overall, the crickets became a personal favorite; the scorpions, while tasty were somewhat of a tease, and I was left wanting more to get a better idea of the taste. I would have tried the chicken-stuffed water bugsthat were on the menu on-line, but unfortunately these were not on the menu at the restaurant (they may only served what they are besieged with at the moment).
Insects and arachnids aren’t for everybody but I think if you like the crustaceans you may enjoy them. If nothing else, you can look at it as revenge for all the picnics they may have ruined for you.