We’d been hearing a lot about the new KFC (Korean fried chicken), so we took a drive down to Federal Way (with its little Koreatown) to sample some at Cockatoo’s Chicken Restaurant—a place that, once you find it, is basically a bar with a snack menu.
You might think we were drunk, but really it was a case of brain-lock induced by being lost in the Korean-ness of it all. Having ordered some deep-fried wings (with ultra-spicy sauce that didn’t disappoint) and some stir-fried chicken gizzards, we wanted a healthy side dish, and asked the server about the “Seasoning Pupa.” (Our “poop-a” mispronunciation, itself unappealing, masked the real meaning.)
“That’s hard, uh, to, um, explain,” he said, struggling with his English. We played twenty-one questions, and he told us what it wasn’t: meat, vegetable, fruit, noodle, or grain. But not what it was. Best he could explain, “pupa is popular…a traditional Korean food.” When he answered yes to our “Is it healthy?” question, we shrugged our shoulders and decided to try it.
The dish came quickly. At first glance, we thought “pupa” were beans floating in a red hell-sauce. If only. From the body curve and markings, we realized these weren’t beans. “Is this some sort of insect?” we wondered aloud. “Yes, insect!” our server screamed excitedly…and ten minutes too late.
Consider this our Bourdain or Bizarre Foods moment. Pupae (“pyoo-pee”—still sounding like a bathroom function) are silkworms, and have a slight crunch with some air pockets. They taste a bit bitter, slightly nutty, and certainly earthy—like something that’s slithered in the sand or somewhere similar. And certainly not popular, at least on this night, as no one else was eating them. Next time, we’ll stick to the chicken. (Though perhaps pupa is better on pizza?)
Originally posted at Seattlest (where “we” = me) on April 21, 2008.