I came across a fascinating piece online today. It’s at shape.com and it’s on ‘the strangest thing food bloggers have eaten.’ I was intrigued as I’ve just been to Cambodia on my holiday – that’s Cambodia, land of Angkor Wat, one of the most amazing temples ever discovered, site of the Killing Fields, one of the saddest places you’ll ever visit and home to Kampong Pluk, the fascinating floating village. However, none of these things were going to be the highlight of the trip for me; the highlight was the chance to eat deep-fried spiders.
Now, there’s a strange thing about this – I’m horribly squeamish about ‘normal’ food. I cannot eat an egg that has any kind of uncooked white on it, I cannot eat off a chicken bone just in case I see a bloody bit of meat on it and I can’t let a lolly stick touch my tongue – yet, give me the chance to munch on a deep-fried insect and I’m in my element. In China I spent ages deliberating over insects on sticks in the market before choosing mini scorpions – crunchy and bit like popcorn and silkworms – completely disgusting. I was just heading for a grasshopper when The Boyfriend dragged me away.
So, now to the spiders. Bred specially for munching in a Cambodian town called Skuon, the tarantula treats are most commonly served deep-fried, though you can get them in soy sauce or even fermented into wine. Apparently if you eat enough of them they cure back pain and asthma. Because we weren’t going to Skuon – where they’re served from big piles on the side of the road, I had decided that my venue of choice to eat them would be a restaurant in Phnom Penh called Romdeng. Not only did this mean I got to indulge my insect joy, it’s a restaurant that helps train ex street children to work in the hospitality industry and so I would be doing something good for humankind (if not the arachnids) while I ate.
I was fair squealing with excitement when I placed the order – The Boyfriend, who if you remember from my one of my first ever posts, refuses to take the magic Bimuno prebiotic before we travel, had an upset stomach and so he had mushroom dip and bread! Not being able to share with him did mean I had to refrain from ordering the Red Ant curry as well which I’m still sulking about.
When they arrived, I admit I was a bit daunted to see there was three of them on the plate – including one very large one, but I snapped off a leg, dipped it in the accompanying lime dip and crunched. It was actually really good…..a bit like a bacon flavoured crisps. I managed to do at least six legs before turning my attention to the body. This wasn’t so good – like the silkworms I’d had in China, it was a crispy case containing something with the consistency of praline chocolate that tasted a bit like bland pate. Even with the yummy dip, I gave the bodys a miss – but all 24 legs went down a treat.
If food trendsters are to be believed, my insect munching tendencies (officially referred to as entomophagy) are part of an important future food movement. Packed with protein but lower in fat than meat, insects are a cheap food source and require very little energy outlay to cultivate compared to the goodness they provide. Some experts say that by 2020 they’ll be a commonplace food in our diet. In fact, London restaurant Archipelago already offers a Love Bug salad containing a combo of locusts and crickets and Chocolate Covered Scorpion on its menu. And, as one of my friends pointed out the other day, it’s said that every one of us eats at least four spiders in our sleep over a lifetime.; while a serving of frozen broccoli is allowed to have up to 60 hitchiking aphids per 100gm. Mine were just a little bit more obvious.
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