The Korea Herald


[Video] Future food source evokes nostalgia for old days

By Im Eun-byel

Published : April 19, 2018 - 14:42

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Taking a spring stroll along riverside parks, passersby might be startled by a steaming pot of brownish worms. Called “beondegi,“ the wormlike creatures are boiled silkworm pupae.

While the insects are considered a possible future food source, Koreans have been eating silkworm pupae for half a century. Beondegi was a common street food in the late 20th century. 

(Produced and narrated by Lim Jeong-yeo/Reporter Im Eun-byel appears in this video)

During the country‘s rapid industrialization, Korea’s textile industry boomed and people needed to deal with the leftover silkworm pupae used to extract silk. They decided to cook them up for a snack. The pupae shrink up when cooked to the size of a fingernail. These days, silkworm pupae are mostly imported from China.

As disposable cups were not easily available in those days, vendors used newspapers to make funnel-shaped cones. After indulging beondegi, one’s hands would be soaked with the soup. The soup is still considered a delicacy among beondegi enthusiasts. 

Beondegi (The Korea Herald / Lim Jeong-yeo) Beondegi (The Korea Herald / Lim Jeong-yeo)

To make beondegi, patience is paramount. After being marinated with sweet soy sauce, silkworm pupae need to be boiled for hours with some water. The scent is distinctive, making the dish detectable from meters away.

As beondegi is chewed, pupae pop in the mouth, squirting bits of juice. Some pupae are soft, others are harder in texture. Soft ones hold more juice. They are neither very chewy nor mushy. The overall taste is savory and sweet, with a hint of soy sauce. 

Beondegi (The Korea Herald / Lim Jeong-yeo) Beondegi (The Korea Herald / Lim Jeong-yeo)

Beondegi was widely eaten in the past as there weren’t many sources of affordable animal protein.

Nowadays, beondegi is served in disposable cups. But it is not easy to find the silkworms at street stalls in Seoul. As the dish is unfamiliar to the younger generation and foreigners, street vendors in popular districts don’t sell it. One would have to visit hiking trails or recreational areas to find it.

However, canned beondegi is sold at supermarkets and convenience stores. Or you can try it in the form of beondegi soup, frequently served with alcohol at pubs.

By Im Eun-byel (