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November 18, 2009

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Warrior for extreme cuisine

MICHAEL Ohlsson tastes food like scorpion and spiders so you don't have to - instead you can read all about it on his blog, writes Sam Riley.

Whether it's crunching on a tarantula in Cambodia, snacking on a scorpion in Thailand or tucking into a plate full of water beetles in Shanghai, former vegetarian Michael Ohlsson has certainly embraced the wilder side of eating meat on his travels around Asia.

The American's stomach-turning culinary adventures are documented on his blog ( and have garnered both revulsion and respect from the online world.

The stalwart of the Shanghai music scene - Ohlsson heads Antidote, a collection of DJs, producers and digital musicians that holds regular parties in cities around China - admits he "went wild" after leaving his lettuce leaf-crunching days behind him on a trip to Japan.

"My parents were hippies, so I grew up being an adventurous eater and I was also vegetarian for a few years. After I recovered from that I went wild for a while," he says. "It was such a relief when I ate meat again, it was an epiphany. I never looked back - I felt so alive."

While his first protein hit was sushi in Japan, Ohlsson quickly sort out more exotic offerings, including a variety of birds, numerous bugs and insects. Oh, and he claims to have eaten every body part of an animal.

His most recent exploratory eating experience was pulling apart water beetles at a Ningbo restaurant in Shanghai.

"They look like cockroaches and they were really good. The meat is like crab meat but it's dark and has a rich, gamey flavor," he says. "You have to eat them hot or they taste nasty. You pull off the head, the legs and the wings, but there is a nice piece of meat in there - it's kind of like eating hairy crabs."

But it isn't all sweet meats in the world of a weird meat explorer. Ohlsson says tarantula (they apparently taste like they look - furry) and balut (chicken and duck embryos) were some of his more challenging assignments. While saying he grew to enjoy balut, there are some meats that just don't hit the spot.

"Scorpions are nasty. You can get them here and they're also popular in Beijing but they taste like mould. I don't get it, I think it's a macho thing," he says.

The only meat Ohlsson has so far refused to eat is monkey, a position he says he is reconsidering if it can be done humanely. His most controversial post about eating dog attracted more than 500 comments, including death threats from outraged dog lovers.

"The comments were 50-50 for and against, but it got some people very riled up," he says.

When not seeking out weird meats, Ohlsson can be found at Dada - a new bar he runs on Xingfu Road.

The bar opened last month and its chilled-out atmosphere and affordable drinks have quickly gained it a solid following.

Since arriving in Shanghai in 2003, Ohlsson has used his experience working online in new media and the music industry in his home city of San Francisco to start a number of ventures.

Ohlsson began working in commercial radio as a DJ for a jazz and then a classic rock station before moving into the music industry.

First at Sony and then at Virgin, Ohlsson was responsible for looking after some of the biggest British bands to hit America in the early 1990s including Oasis, The Verve and Blur.

He later rode the dot-com boom in San Francisco, working for a number of start-ups before moving into television, where he helped handle the Website and produced programming for local Fox affiliate KTVU.

"We built a restaurant guide on the Website and tied that into television, so we would go to restaurants and interview chefs or travel to wine country. It was a tough gig," Ohlsson jokes.

He made his first visit to China in 1999 as part of a two-week holiday.

"I wanted to check out the energy and change that I had read about in China," he says.

When he finally settled in Shanghai in 2003, he started working in freelance Web design and marketing.

"I made a mistake that a lot of expats make when they come here," he says. "I saw a need and thought it was an opportunity and just didn't realize that the market wasn't ready for it.

"China's Internet industry was catching up pretty quickly, but it was still five years behind the times, at least back then," he continues.

Antidote originally started as a bit of a hobby, where Ohlsson and his business partner, DJ B6, would organize parties and acts.

They had a regular monthly event at C's bar which recently finished, and over the five years they have built Antidote into a well-known party and alternative music brand.

"We wanted people to have a name that was familiar and they would hear something different, that is cutting-edge and where the music is more artistically inclined than just being a party for a party's sake," he says.

Antidote artists play a regular monthly event at the Shelter and early next year plan to tour around China with live music and DJs.

They have previously played a number of events in Beijing, Wuhan (Hubei Province), Hangzhou (Zhejiang Province), Changsha (Hunan Province) and Nanjing (Jiangsu Province).

Later in the year Ohlsson will take Chinese electronic music artists IGO, B6, Sulumi and iloop on a European tour to Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. Michael Ohlsson

Nationality: American

Age: I forgot.

Profession: I'd rather stay amateur.


Description of self (three words):

I'm usually hungover.

Favorite place:

It's a secret.

Worst experience:

I've been to the hospital a couple of times.

Strangest sight:

My Shanghainese friend Fish woke up one day speaking in a bizarre fake British accent. He didn't know how or why it happened, and he can't stop it.

Motto for life:

Do it tomorrow.

How to improve Shanghai:CD players in taxis. Why do they still have cassette tape decks? Also, more color! Why are people and buildings all dressed in gray?

Advice to newcomers:

Get a bicycle.


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