I could feel the spiny legs of the fried scorpion touch the tip of my tongue a second before I chomped down on its torso.
I kept repeating to myself, "It's dead. It's dead. It's dead."
It was only mere moments since I saw the three of them impaled on a stick in the Beijing night market. The top one was wriggling like there was no tomorrow to get free. The fact it was still moving was almost enough to make me chicken out. Then the food vendor assured me he was going to deep fry the hell out of it.
I decided, when in China ... do as the Chinese -- and millions around the world -- do.
Travel has a funny way of making you do things you wouldn't normally do at home -- especially if you're terrified of insects. But when I arrived in Beijing, as homage to Karl Pilkington of An Idiot Abroad, I was going to challenge myself to eat the street food -- fried scorpions. And for dessert, fried seahorse.
I forked over my 15 yuan (about $2.25) and the vendor handed my friend Cindy the stick of scorpions, which -- to my delight -- had shrunken in size from the hot oil.
The menu also boasts fried locusts and fried worms for 18 yuan ($2.65), stinky tofu for 10 yuan ($1.50), and starfish, fried silkworms and centipedes for 20 yuan ($3).
All around me, I could hear the cheering of other tourists at the next stall over. A blonde-haired guy was about to down his own stick of scorpions while his buddy taped it on his video camera.
I had to block out the noise and go to a more zen place. I tried to put myself at peace as if I was a Shaolin monk.
And you know what? The scorpion wasn't bad. I mean, it wasn't good either, but the cook had seasoned it with chili flakes so it honestly just tasted like spices more than anything. The fact it had been fried longer also just made the thing very crispy.
The seahorse was ready for me. This, on the other hand, turned out to be really dry. It tasted the way the sea smells. Of the two, I preferred the scorpion.
After some high fives and chugging of ice tea, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I did what I set out to do.
But then, I felt queasy for a few minutes after I realized somewhere inside my digestive tract, there was a scorpion -- a distant cousin of the spider -- and a seahorse. I realized this was just my mind playing tricks and calmed myself down.
Cindy, on a crazy insect-eating adrenaline rush, found three grasshoppers on a stick that was screaming for her mouth. She finished two.
Unlike scorpions, the grasshoppers didn't shrink after spending time in the pot and end up being really difficult to eat. By that time she was feeling a bit nauseated.
Would I do it again? Maybe. Like I said, travel has a funny way of getting you excited about things you can't do at home, especially when it comes to creepy crawly things.
Next stop: Centipedes.
If you go to China
Hainan Airlines has direct flights from Toronto to Beijing. Contact them at global.hnair.com or 647-260-8990.
The China National Tourist Office in Toronto can be reached at tourismchina.org or 416-599-6636.