In the lowest shelf of my dresser lies an assortment of edibles I’ve gathered for yet another semester full of grueling late nights and inconveniently timed cravings. While my mini bags of Doritos and cup noodles are often great and easy ways to satisfy my hunger, they sure feel inadequate in terms of both nutritional value and sentiment. So at times when I feel in need of a hearty snack while nostalgic for the food back home, I reach for the stack of short red cans hidden at the back of my dresser.
They are silkworm pupas, widely known as beondaegi in Korea. I love eating them (though I’ve certainly seen many Koreans who are absolutely disgusted by them). I could easily scarf down a whole can in a matter of couple minutes, shamelessly with a plastic fork in the comfort of my dorm room. They are crunchy and juicy in my mouth. The taste is rich and savory, although I am not quite sure if the flavor is inherently that of the pupa’s flesh or mostly from the additives. I also try my best not to pay attention to the pupa’s anatomical structures, which are uncomfortably easy to see despite the small size.
Although I eat them straight out of the can for the sake of convenience, beondaegi is usually served hot and seasoned. They are especially great when eaten with soju, a Korean alcoholic drink. A quick internet search informed me that the practice of eating silkworm pupa actually only dates back to 1960s, when shortage of food during times of industrialization forced people to get creative with their ingredients. Among them were workers from silk factories.
I’ve eaten beondaegi since my early childhood, and surprisingly, I don’t recall ever feeling any form of disgust or repulsion toward the practice of eating these little critters. Perhaps it’s because I never really associated beondaegi with other insects I see on the streets every day, which I cannot ever imagine myself eating. For me, silkworm pupae have always been just food. I never took the time to acknowledge that they were once alive insects, probably crawling in some sort of a box while gnawing on withering leaves before being steamed to death in a factory. While I am unsure if I will ever come across the species of silkworm during my studies of insects this semester, I sure hope that I find nothing too disturbing about what I’ve been diligently eating for the past two decades of my life.