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Written by Michael Fones   
Sunday, 24 August 2008 16:57
Seokgulam is an 8th c. Buddhist temple carved into a rock grotto up the mountain from Bulguksa, a famous Buddhist monastery and temple. Inside the grotto is a large, seated Buddha in a pose of deep meditation. During part of the year, the light from the sunrise strikes a golden jewel in his forehead, which must be an impressive sight.

On our way down the hill from Bulguksa, we walked by some street vendors selling faux traditional Korean masks, parasols, keychains and food. Korean snacks are much more nutritious than western ones. Some were selling a kind of fish jerky, others had fresh roasted chestnuts, and several vendors had what looked like pots of cooked insect larvae. But they couldn’t be, I thought. I asked Young-kyeung, my Cha’s wife, what they were. She said they were delicious – one of her favorite childhood snacks, called bundaegi: silk worm larvae. I commented that I couldn’t imagine having such a snack as a child, or as an adult. Of course, the next thing I knew, she had purchased a paper cup filled with the plump little 1/2 inch long buggers. And two toothpicks. Intrigued, I asked her if they were “gushy”. I didn’t think I could keep it in my mouth if I could differntiate its insides from its outsides. She said, “no, just a little crunchy. It tastes kind of like sesame seeds.” Yeah, right.

I have to admit, part of my incentive were those three words of Sherry’s: “boiled jellyfish tentacles.” She got my competitive blood boiling, so now I have three words of my own, Sherry: “sautéed silkworm larvae”!

I speared one with my toothpick, and held it up foor closer observation. They look a little like the Michelin tire man, but without arms or legs. Just segments, and what looked like a mouth. I chose to look at the other side instead.

You know, when you pop one in your mouth and don’t think about what you’re eating, it does taste a little like sesame seeds, only with a hint of salt from the water they’re cooked in.
And like Lay’s potato chips, no one can eat just one.

They’re amazingly filling, so I stopped at two. At which point my friend, professor Cha - Mr. “I grew up a poor farmboy and walked 6 km to school and back each day” - told me he’d never eaten one before. Still hasn’t, I can tell you. And then Yong-kyeung remembered she’s allergic to bundaegi, so we had to find a pharmacy and get some antihistamines for her – but not until her arms and legs had broken out with a pretty bad rash. I’m thinking I won’t have another opportunity to try silkworm larvae again this trip.

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