There was a time when the Korean government banned the selling of beondegi (pronounced bun-day-gee). Of all the things particular to Korean cuisine that Western tourists find distasteful (i.e. eating dogs, using toilet paper in the place of napkins, having to shout to get service), beondegi was right up there. While the preparing and eating of dogs (boshintang) was done in the privacy of a hof kitchen, beondegi was visibly and olfactory present in a big way. It was a popular street food. Imagine a hot dog cart on every street corner dishing out not hot dogs but, good lord, beondegi. To understand why I'm saying "good lord" let me point out that beondegi is people... I mean... insects. Silkworm pupae to be exact.

Yeah, they eat that shit.

Now, I'm all for cultural relativism and all but the Korean government isn't stupid. When tourists are coming over en mass for things like the Olympics or World Cup, Korea really, really wants to make a good impression. It puts on the dog. Hrm. What I mean to say is, like, Korea built a big huge 80,000 seat stadium for the 1988 Olympics. And then went and built another one for the 2002 World Cup. Why build a whole new expensive stadium when you've got a reasonably modern one sitting fallow? LA reused crap. In the Korean mind, however, the world has already seen the Olympic stadium. Time to show the world a whole new stadium. You wear the same pair of pants to work two days in a row? No. Why? Because you don't want anyone to think you're a slovenly hobo who eats dogs and wipes his mouth with toilet paper. Hence, away goes the dog soup. Away goes the toilet paper rolls. Away go the soju tents that clog downtown sidewalks. Away goes the beondegi.

Now if big steaming cauldrons of brown insects isn't enough to sicken tourists, the smell of beondegi is the deal closer. How to describe the smell? Remember when you were a kid and you discovered that the pleasure of burning ants with a magnifying glass was somewhat moderated by the horrid smell that resulted? Well, imagine that smell on every street corner.

Now that the 2002 World Cup is fading into memory and there are not looming crowds of tourists coming to Korea in the coming years, beondegi has been coming back into favor and flavor as a street vendor snack. Odor to joy!

To Koreans, however, beondegi is like popcorn chicken. Man, that's some good eating. It's high in protein. And since it was long a byproduct of the Korean silk industry, it was considered a ready and important low-cost source of protein for growing children. Your older set seems to view it as a comfort food. Many modern Korean children actually enjoy it, despite the lures and easy availability of western snacks like potato chips, corn dogs, donuts, chocolate chip cookies, Snickers Bars, ice cream, yogurt, and all manner of bread products pumped (no doubt against its will) full of sweet red bean goop.

One can also buy it in cans at the local grocery market. Canned beondegi is mixed in with the Spam and the corned pork. So you need to be careful.

From all reports, if you can get past the smell (which I can't) it doesn't taste like chicken. Not at all. It has more of a nutty taste.

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