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Eating cockroaches in China: Healing and delicious?

By David McKenzie, CNN
updated 10:00 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN's David McKenzie has tasted everything from worms to grasshoppers while on the road
  • China's cockroaches are his latest culinary adventure
  • Cockroach farmer in China profits from breeding the scuttling insects

Jinan, China (CNN) -- I've eaten some unusual things on the road.

There were salted Mopani worms in Botswana at the hotel buffet (black and squishy); sun-dried nsenene grasshoppers in Uganda (yellow and juicy); whole roasted goat in the desert in Mauritania (delicious), and chicken head and feet soup in Beijing (only unusual if you are not from China).

Officially, my travel advice to you is this well-worn phrase: If you can't boil it, cook it or peel it, then don't eat it.

But between you, me, and the screen, sometimes it's best to put the energy bars and canned nuts aside and feed your culinary curiosity.

That's just what I was challenged to do when I visited a thriving cockroach farm in Jinan, China. But more on that later.

Bionic cockroaches to the rescue
Mohammed Ashour (pictured) launched Aspire with four fellow MBA students at McGill University. The idea? To give people more access to edible insects. The concept's not as strange as you might think. Two billion worldwide already eat insects. Mohammed Ashour (pictured) launched Aspire with four fellow MBA students at McGill University. The idea? To give people more access to edible insects. The concept's not as strange as you might think. Two billion worldwide already eat insects.
Saving the world with insects
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Saving the world with insects Saving the world with insects
Crickets are some of the most commonly eaten insects in the world and are regarded as a solution for the malnutrition problem plaguing Laos. Fried crickets and grasshoppers are sold at markets like this one in Vientiane. According to consumer feedback in the U.N. report, farmed crickets are tastier than the ones picked in the wild. Crickets are some of the most commonly eaten insects in the world and are regarded as a solution for the malnutrition problem plaguing Laos. Fried crickets and grasshoppers are sold at markets like this one in Vientiane. According to consumer feedback in the U.N. report, farmed crickets are tastier than the ones picked in the wild.
Anyone for cricket? Laos
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A traveler\'s guide to eating insects A traveler's guide to eating insects
A one-day insect festival sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Bugfest attracts 25,000 visitors a year and serves up a range of creepy, crawly dishes. This year's festival theme is scorpions.
A one-day insect festival sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Bugfest attracts 25,000 visitors a year and serves up a range of creepy, crawly dishes. This year's festival theme is scorpions.
Bugfest
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The world\'s weirdest food festivals The world's weirdest food festivals

An appetite for adventure

Some of my favorite travel experiences have been of eating street food or home-cooked delicacies that I have never heard of before.

After 10 hours in the desert sun, chicken barbequed on a coal fire in Chad tastes like a Michelin-starred offering.

And I don't know what the guy put into his pot of chicken and broth in the foothills of the Himalayas, but it was worth choking on the smoke from the stove inside his hut.

There are pitfalls for the adventurous eater. I have yet to meet a journalist with a well-worn passport who hasn't had a bout or two of gut-wrenching giardiasis (I will spare you the details).

And sometimes you do regret a culinary decision (goat-bile on the shores of Lake Victoria, I'm talking to you).

Occasionally, it's best to say "no" -- so I declined the dried mice in Malawi skewered on a stick and offered by the side of the highway, despite the insistence of our producer.

Which all gets me, in a roundabout way, to Wang Fuming, the kingpin of cockroaches in Jinan, China.

Scuttling legs

Wang has a dream: To put roaches on plates and bowls throughout China as a high protein meal.

"I love these cockroaches, I feel very close to them," he tells me.

In a tumble-down industrial district on the shabby outskirts of Jinan, Wang farms millions of cockroaches. Ten million before "harvest time," he tells me.

He keeps the roaches in warehouses with narrow corridors and hives made of cement roof shingles. Stepping inside is like a waking nightmare or a scene from the film "Alien." There's a strong smell of ammonia and the sound of scuttling legs.

Wang breeds American cockroaches (actually, they're originally from Africa) and he sells them to pharmaceutical companies in China by the ton.

They are usually ground and stuffed into pills and advertised as a cure for all manner of stomach, heart, and liver ailments.

In recent years, they have become a staple in Chinese medicine shops here, promising wondrous results. Cockroach medicine is having something of a boom.

Crunchy, with an aftertaste

But Wang prefers them fresh and wants me to try one, so he drags a gas stove into his office and throws a steel bowl full of roaches into peanut oil.

If you don't try it, you will regret it for the rest of your life.
Wang Fumin, cockroach farmer

He promptly scoops them out. "Is that it?" I ask.

"No, twice fried," he says, throwing them back into the oil.

After which, Wang promptly starts tucking in. He really seems to enjoy it. "I felt so much better after I started eating cockroaches," he says.

Now, all that is left is for me to try one. Wang points out a suitable roach on the corner of the dish. "Its wings have come off, so it's easier to eat," he says.

I pop it in my mouth and chew -- American roaches are, unfortunately, too big to swallow whole.

The verdict. They're crunchy, like a spindly overcooked French fry, and they leave an aftertaste that has serious staying power.

I realize that roaches may not be the best way to convince you to be an adventurous eater, but think of them as the standard bearer.

Or take Wang's word for it.

"If you don't try it, you will regret it for the rest of your life," he exclaims.

READ: U.N.: Eat insects, save the world

READ: A traveler's guide to eating insects

READ: World's weirdest food festivals

READ: More on strange food

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