Dirty Chewy Bug Nuts
The instant I pointed out the menu item to Edmund, he just knew that he had to order them. He'd had the same reaction when we encountered the chicken testicles at that southern Taiwanese restaurant in Cupertino. That episode didn't go so well for him, but Edmund's not the type of person to be deterred by little bird balls.
"Hey man, do you want to order the bugs?"
Not really. I wasn't in the mood for bugs.
"Come on--we'll share!"
I considered: when would I actually be in the mood for bugs, and when (if?) the mood did strike, what were the chances of being accompanied by somebody who would try them? I conceded that today might be my day to eat bugs.
Soon the friendly owner stood before our table, pen poised expectantly over order pad. We'll have the awesome 10-piece fried chicken combo! And...I pointed to the bugs: bundaegi (the translation helpfully said "pupal"). Gamsahanida!
The owner paused to size us up, then frowned. "Are you sure?"
Oh yes, we're sure. Bring it on!
"Wait," she said, and scampered into the kitchen. She reappeared a moment later with a can in her hand, a garish picture of massed silkworms on the label. She raised her eyebrows questioningly.
Yeah, OK, the packaging is quite ugly. But we still want it!!
"OK," she shrugged.
"Are they good?" asked Edmund. "Do you like them?"
She considered how to answer for a second, then made a face: "no!" She disappeared into the kitchen.
There was laughing from a table of guys across the room. Eventually, one of them made their way to our table. "I can't believe you ordered the silkworm," he said. "One of my friends ate them last week and nearly died afterwards." "I know you ordered them," he continued accusingly, "because I can fucking smell 'em!"
A few minutes later, the owner reappeared with a small, stoneware bowl of hot bundaegi. A very generous number of silkworm pupa floated in a thin broth, with whole cloves of raw garlic and chili peppers. We dug in. Do I use the spoon or the chopsticks?
We compared notes. I found the silkworms resembled, and even tasted like, peanuts--boiled peanuts--only segmented, and surrounded by a chewy, chitinous shell. Edmund thought they tasted like dirt. So there you have it: dirty chewy bug nuts.
"I ate my share," Edmund announced. "How many did you eat?"
'Bout a hundred, I replied. We peered into the bowl: plenty more.
Eventually, the awesome 10-piece fried chicken combo appeared: some plain, some slathered in a spicy/sweet/savory sauce, some drizzled with honey(?). The shaker dispenses seasoned salt: shake a little pile of salt onto your plate, the owner demonstrated, and dip the chicken. Bones go into the little bucket at each table. The chicken is fried to order, and it's really good.
That's why the restaurant is called Chicken 99, and not Pupal 69.
Chicken 99 2781 El Camino Real Santa Clara, CA 95051 (408) 244-5599