Video: Inside China’s Bug-Eating Industry (Part 1)
This is Matthew from VICE's Brooklyn office. China's tradition of insect eating is far from mainstream. But recently there's been a resurgence in the culture. VICE China explores this peculiar industry. This is What we Buy: Bug Eating Industry – Part 1. His shoes should be fine. It’s ok if he wears his own shoes. You have to change your shoes. It's… It's Josh, I'm about to go into a wasp habitat. Yunnan Province is the spiritual home of insect eating in China.
And the area, which borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar is almost as famous for edible bugs as it is for tea and wild mushrooms. The area's subtropical climate means you can pretty much grow anything here. Pretty busy scene. There's a huge variety of fruit. Different kinds of eggs, vegetables, wild mushrooms. There are actually some little insects here. Did you guys gather this bee pupae yourselves? Can you eat them raw? Yes. We make them into a traditional dish called Sadaluma It’s made from raw pupae. Is it good? Very tasty. It’s really sweet. Insects are kind of treated between being a meat and a vegetable. They're part of the land. So, traditionally people have eaten a lot of insects. What kind of insects do you have here? This is coconut worm. This one is bee pupa.
And these are locusts. -Whoa, a brick of locusts. -Yeah. This is rice grasshopper. It’s another kind of locust. This one is 60 yuan [$9] per bag. This one is 100 [$15]. This one is 50 [$7]. This one is 60 [$8]. 25 [$3.50]. 20 [$3.00]. And this one is 80 yuan [$12] per bag. 80 yuan for such a tiny bag? Yes. This is the tastiest one. It’s high in protein. They say the protein in one pupa is equal to four or five eggs. -Really? -Yes. It’s really high in protein. When they're frozen they look a little bit like figs. I cross between a fig and a magot. You just missed our local specialty, the “cow-dung beetle.” It lives in cow manure, and it tastes a bit like manure, too. Does seem a bit crazy that in a landscape that has so much to offer in terms of produce and meat and foraged vegetables that insects are still going to be on the menu. After the market I headed to nearby Mangshi to meet a professor of entomology who's passionate about insect cuisine.
-Hi Professor Guo -Hi. Where are we now? This is our laboratory. Our research is focused on edible insects. Are these… are these wasps? Yes. This is the biggest wasp in the world, the Asian Giant Hornet. And this is medicinal hornet liquor. -You can open it. -Ok. Is the liquid sorghum liquor? Or something else? It’s rice wine. You can have a taste. How does it taste? How does it taste？ Of course I’ll say it tastes good. Take this one. It’s ok, I can drink yours. Take a fresh bottle. I know you foreigners don’t share bottles with people. There's a nice floating wasp on the top. Okay. Relax, just have a sip. Your mouth feels a little numb, right? Yeah. If it gives you a tingly numb feeling in your mouth it means you’re affected by rheumatism. This liquor helps treat the disease. If you don’t feel any numbness, it means you’re healthy enough. You can enjoy it as a drink, but you don’t need it as treatment.
In the very beginning, insects were the first protein our ancestors could eat. Eating insects gave us the strength to catch bigger animals. -They needed insect protein first. -Right. That’s exactly what I mean. Humans started by eating insects. What kind of nutrition do insects provide？ The main nutritional value of insects is their protein. This insect protein is also low in fat. Besides protein, insects also have many active nutrients that can enhance the immune system. But right now, insect products remain unacceptable to many people. The public, especially people from big cities, think we’re barbarians in the middle of nowhere, who only eat bugs because we can’t afford meat. That’s a misunderstanding. It’s superficial. Is the insect industry in China becoming more modernized now? We’re not at that stage yet.
Insect products don’t have brand recognition yet. We need something famous like Lao Gan Ma fermented soybean sauce… but for insect foods. Like “Professors Guo’s Wasp Medecine.” -We need an iconic brand. -Sounds good to me. I still don't fully understand why insects are so expensive. In order to ensure the quality of edible insects, we have to farm them in the wild. So the price of insect products is higher than other foods. Quality products are always worth a premium. I wanted to see what an insect farm actually looked like. So Professor Guo took me to his wasp farm. Look, the wasps are coming out for us. This looks like a joke. This one is a large? Right, large. This foreigner has big shoes. How stupid is this? I'm not totally clear on that yet. The small wasps aren’t that dangerous, right? Yes. Now we only farm small wasps, and they’re less aggressive than the big ones. -Are you ok with this? -I’m ok. Kind of feel like I'm getting ready to go diving.
This one’s too big for me. He looks like a cartoon character. I was the first in Yunnan to start wearing these wasp-protection suits. Ok？ Hey, it's Joshua in Yunnan Province and we're going to check out a wasp farm. Someone is coming out. We’re heading out. Let’s go. Watch out. Here it is. Hello. This is pretty nuts. We're just being totally swarmed by insects. They're all over me, they're all over his phone, they're all over the camera. This guy in super high-tech gear. Which looks much better than what we have. What’s he doing? He’s digging out the wasp pupae from the beehive. How dangerous is this? It’s definitely dangerous without a protective suit. Before we had the wasp suits, we had to torch the wasps to kill them. Now you can take the pupae directly. Yeah, we can take the pupae without hurting these wasps.
Then we leave the wasps to breed and rebuild their hive. It’s sustainable. Is wasp farming really that profitable? Yes. Very profitable. The price of pupae is 100 yuan [$15] per 500 grams, so a bag of 5 kilos can be sold for 1000 yuan [$150]. The price is even higher at restaurants. I can feel the bugs hitting me. Look, he’s taking out the hive. Come on, show the camera. Look, he’s moving more than us now, so the wasps are attracted to him. We’re standing still, so the wasps ignore us. Now he’s peeling the hive open. Whoa, wow. -Sir? -What? -Do you get scared? -No. How long have you been doing this job? About four or five years. What was your job before that? I’ve been doing this kind of work all my life, harvesting wasps and bees. -Is it lucrative? -Yeah. How much can you make a month? About 6000 or 7000 yuan [$1000]. They make more than us professors. It's not just wasps that are big business in Yunnan.
I met up with Li Zengliang, a chef that specializes in bugs in Mr. Li took me out to the jungle so that we can dig up some grub for dinner. Here’s a fat one. Just like after a few seconds of digging basically we found this which is Shā chóng, like sand worm type thing. It's quite gross looking, but it can't move fast at least. It's just a pale white color and it just looks like an alien. All-natural. It was kind of shocking how easy it was to get them out of the mud. Mr. Li and I quickly gathered a full dishes worth of sand worms. so he took me straight to the kitchen. I kept trying to convince myself they were no different from shrimp. But, in reality they looked like cold shriveled fingers stuffed with mud. The first step of the preparation is to throw them into boiling water.
And then kind of cut open the worms butt to scoop out all the dirt and digestive tract. So they look a little bit like shrimp because they've got a few small legs. And then kind of like a meaty part, except what you can't eat is the sack thing at the bottom which is full of its' intestines and the mud and stuff that it eats. So it is actually pretty gross. It's not that appealing. Now we’re going to stuff it with pork In here. You can add some more meat to this one, till it’s filled up. It's like worm dumplings filed with pork. So I'm at a bug feast with 13 different kinds of insects in Yunnan. Mr. Li is the chef responsible for all these dishes. Almost all these dishes are deep fried. Yeah, that’s right. If you don’t deep fry insects, no one would want to eat them. If you boil or stir-fry them, the inside part of the insects would stay soft.
No one would eat that. But now, nutrition is the first factor for many people, the second is curiosity. They really want to try eating insects. Most of our customers are tourists. They’re curious and want to give it a try. So, time to try it. Kind of just taste like fried nothing. With a slight lemon grass flavor which is actually pretty nice. These are the sand worms we just dug up. How do I eat this? Eat the head first. The head? And then continue with the pork part? That’s right. Ok. Alright. How is it? It’s still… full of juice inside. Kind of soft, right? Uh. What’s inside of its head? It’s a juicy part. Evidently. The fluid is good for you. Do you like it? Let’s drink, I need a drink. This one’s called..
. Sorry, my memory… This is “chestnut worm.” -“Chestnut worm.” -Yes. Should I eat it in one bite or… Of course eat it in one bite. Not a fan. Not a fan at all. Why don’t you have one? Don’t you like it? You can’t handle it? I don’t really like it either. I see how it is. Even the chef doesn’t like it… Now I get why you’re looking at me like that. He doesn't want to eat them. These days only a few people order the worm dishes. Because the worms are mainly gathered in the wild, and it’s a bit expensive. How much would a worm feast like this cost? Around 1000 yuan [$150]. I think it’s an interesting paradox. I mean, originally it would have been people who couldn’t afford other meat who would have to eat worms, But now it’s more like a…
-a high-class… -Luxury. -Luxury -Exactly. For a guy who runs an insect restaurant Mr. Li didn't seem too enthusiastic about any of the bug dishes. But he was definitely making good money off them. I can totally accept that bugs are high in protein and amino acids. But, pricey bug dishes seem to mainly be a novelty for Chinese tourists. Even in Yunnan insect eating still isn't mainstream. And while it might be a tradition for some no one has quite figured out how to make them taste that good yet. Elsewhere in China entrepreneurs are starting to invest more money into insects as a luxury item and food of the future. It turns like this, and slowly surfaces. It's a tool for yourself to become independent in your food production to just know for sure what you're eating. They're just crawling everywhere where it's really warm and hot. It smells like New York City sidewalk. This is Josh.
.. That's just demeaning..