Fishing Lines: China's good grub guide

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The Independent Online
THE Chinese are claiming the credit for something I discovered years ago - there's nothing like a maggot if you're feeling peckish.

With more than a billion mouths to feed, the chaps in the badly made suits have been beavering away to find some new sources of sustenance. And last week the Central China Agricultural University in Peking announced just the thing for those fed up with endless bowls of rice - a new strain of maggot that is highly nutritious, but a low-fat source of food.

University scientists say that every 35 ounces of the maggots, which have been developed from the common housefly, will produce 17.5oz of pure protein and 7oz of low-fat oil and amino acids.

Professor Zhou Yunzhen, who worked on the project, says: 'Maggot products are surprisingly appealing.' And Xinhua, the official news agency, adds: 'The findings may tap a huge new source of nourishment for the 1990s. One fly can produce billions of maggots every week, making the vermin suitable for mass production.'

Wow] Adds a whole new meaning to a Chinese meal, doesn't it? Can you imagine trying to pick them up with chopsticks? And if customers didn't eat up quickly, the food would be gone - literally. But there could be an unexpected boost to business from fishermen, who often find it difficult to buy their maggots during normal shop hours. Now, even at midnight, they will simply be able to pop along to the local takeaway. (I'm slightly suspicious of any new dish coming out of China. Those who have travelled outside the big cities say the food is uniformly poor.)

Of course the principle of eating creepy-crawlies is not new. Frogs, snails and grasshoppers are regular fare for less squeamish races than our own. In fact, when I was fishing for arapaima in the Ecuador rain forests a couple of years ago, our native guide spent several hours digging in rotten trees to uncover the local delicacy - a fat, inch-long grub that looked just like an oversized maggot.

He had wrapped a dozen in a leaf, and brought them back proudly to us. Although we couldn't understand his dialect, it was obvious these were a special treat and that we were meant to eat them. As party leader, it fell to me to try them out.

There was no escape. So I put one in my mouth, and made a chewing action as if I was munching away on the bloated horror. The others, seeing that I appeared to be enjoying it and not wanting to lose face, all gingerly took one and emulated my action - only they did it for real. When they weren't looking, I spat the horrible thing out.

However, I might have missed out on something. They took on a surprised look and pronounced the grubs delicious. Colin finished up the lot, claiming that they tasted like a chewy Milky Bar. Giant maggots weren't the only thing we tried on that trip. There were also the lemon ants (but that's another story).

Actually, the Chinese discovery brings back uncomfortable memories of the most disgusting thing I ever did - eating a live maggot. It started as a bet but, as such things do at school, it escalated to a stage where half the school came to gawp.

My entrepreneurial friend Ian hit upon a scheme to levy 6d off everyone who wanted to see the amazing feat, on the understanding that I would swallow not one but six of the things, with my hands tied behind my back to preclude any jiggery-pokery and to have my mouth inspected by a neutral observer afterwards to prove that I had swallowed them, and not hidden them under my tongue.

I can't remember how much the project raised. Certainly, the geography room was packed. It was the most lucrative of all our schoolday ventures. Out of the bait I had bought for the next day's fishing, I selected six maggots - and gulped them down, hoping that my gastric juices would ensure the things didn't weave mazy trails through my intenstines or breed inside me. Maintaining an inscrutable face (something the Chinese are very good at) I opened my mouth for inspection. Reactions changed from disbelief, to horror, to disgust.

The reputation was to dog me the rest of my schooldays. It wasn't quite the fame I had dreamed of, but it is probably the only thing that I am remembered for: the Man Eating Maggots.

And so, however delicious the Chinese may have made them, I shall be sticking to the flied lice.

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