Some things are inseparable from a Japanese summer: fireworks festivals, face-melting heat and humidity, young men and women awkwardly courting in yukata, and of course the deafening roar of cicadas. Here, the vociferous critters just provide the soundtrack to summer, but did you know that in some places, they are on the summer menu too?
Our intrepid Japanese reporter Ponkotsu did and he sent off to the cicada-producing center of Lishui in China’s Zhejiang Province for a bag of bugs to taste test.
Grab your knife and fork, Rocketeers, here is his report.
Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of blogs, articles, tweets and the like talking about eating cicadas. Some of them were about places where they eat cicadas, while others talked about the possibility of eating cicadas during food shortages and things like that.
But it’s only in Japan that this idea seems unusual. In other places, like China for example, eating cicadas is quite common – popular, even. After all, this is the country that famously has the saying, “They will eat everything that flies but the airplane, everything that swims but the submarine, and everything with four legs but the table.” Cicada are no exception. Given their popularity, maybe we are missing out on something? Let’s give them a try!
Online shopping, China style
First stop is the Chinese online shop Taobao (淘宝網), where searching for the Chinese for cicada (知了) gets you cicada toys, cicada decorations and yes, cicada foodstuffs.
Check out that little girl at the top getting ready to shove cicadas in her mouth. I doubt she’s all that crazy about them. It’s probably just to show how safe the product is, right?
Choosing the right cicada
Looking at the images, it seems it’s possible to choose either adult cicada or larva. This cicada food culture is deep, man. I also notice that the word Zhejiang pops up a lot. It turns out that Zhejiang is famous for producing cicada and it has become something of a brand, kind of like Kobe beef or Yubari melons but for bugs.
We opt for Lishui
According to a post on a message board of questionable reliability, the quality of cicadas for Lishui is supposed to be good, so we go ahead and order a 50g bag. At the current exchange rate, this sets us back about 150 yen (US$1.20), which is about what a bowl of rice and toppings would cost at a local cafeteria, so it seems like a fairly reasonable price.
Just open and eat
The bag says something like “Just open and eat!” I guess Chinese eat these little guys for a snack. I don’t know why, but this makes me kind of happy. I later heard that cicada are also stir-fried. When I offered a co-worker a cicada, he told me cicada stir-fry is a seasonal specialty where he is from. So maybe cicadas also have a special association for Chinese.
The cicadas we ordered were flavored with garlic, yellow rice wine, soy sauce, chili pepper and ginger. In China, things that have a strong smell or are kind of dangerous are often heavily seasoned. I don’t know which category cicadas belong to, but I’d guess the latter, since they are insects.
And finally, the taste test
When I finally put the cicada in my mouth, the first thing I taste is spiciness, maybe from the chili pepper. I’m not sure if this has covered up the distinct aroma of the cicada or what, but I’m a little disappointed. I think anything would taste the same with these seasonings. If you stir-fried locusts with chili pepper it would taste like this.
So perhaps the appeal is not about the taste but about the visual. For sure, when you look at these you can enjoy the thought that you are eating a bug. Perhaps that creates a summer kind of feeling.
In any event, you can buy cicadas year-round on taobao, if you are interested, though, undertake that adventure at your own risk, dear reader…
Photos © RocketNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]