Posted by: adventuressetravels | May 1, 2012

Munching and Crunching on the Creepy Crawlies

I leapt out of the hard stiff-backed bus seat almost as soon as the junker pulled up to the dusty rest stop.  The tuk tuk driver who had helped us buy the holiday-priced tickets had assured us that the bus was a brand-new luxury bus.  Instead Rupert and I were stuck on something that would have failed the comfort standards for a 1970s school bus.  For the long 8-hour bus ride from Siem Reap back to Phnom Penh.

The bus was parked directly in front of a small rough-cut wooden table piled high with homemade Khmer food to sell and customers clustered around it.  The woman standing behind the table, her long hair pulled back into a pony tail was wearing a long-sleeved shirt with a t-shirt layered over it.   I never could understand how the Khmer people could bundle themselves up, especially in April, the hottest time of the year where temperatures soared to 40 C (104 F) or hotter with air that made a sauna seem arid.

As I drew closer I realized what was on the large metal platters was more traditional types of food than I was accustomed to.  The enormous platter nearest the woman was heaped with large crickets fried a golden brown, and she was scooping this popular snack into plastic bags and giving them to eager customers.  The crickets were interesting, but the other delicacies were much more interesting.

The small platter piled with what looked like deep-fried bird fetuses sent a shiver down my spine, but I was fascinated by the tangled mound of black shapes towards the front of the table.  As I looked closer I realized that these were what looked like over-grown tarantulas.  The black shapes coated in a reddish seasoning were almost big enough to pass for crabs if it hadn’t been for the length of their spindly legs.

I was torn:  I love trying new things and I had eaten crickets before, but these spiders were a whole new level of extreme eating.  Could I really shake off my western sensibilities long enough to eat a gigantic spider?

I stood a few feet away from the table talking with Rupert and a Korean man named Kevin who ran a construction company in Phnom Penh.  Every few minutes I would steal a glance at the table.

Finally curiosity won the better of me and I made my way over to the table.  I was appalled when the woman told me it was 2,000 riel for one spider.  Sure it was only around 50 cents, but for one measly spider?  In Cambodia?  Surely this had to be some sort of tourist- rip-off price, 10-times the local price.

Kevin came over and talked to woman in Khmer.  When he had spoken with her for a few minutes he explained that this type of spider was a special delicacy in Cambodia.  The spiders were called Apign and were extremely hard to catch.  Burrowing spiders, they lived underground and as if this weren’t bad enough they were also venomous.

Khmer had started eating these arachnids during Pol Pot’s reign of terror, but they had become a prized delicacy.  Even after this background, I doubted that apign was really 2,000 riel (they are, in fact, supposed to be about 300 riel I later discovered), but Kevin paid the woman before I could even start bargaining.

I carefully selected a large one and after Rupert took a few pictures to commemorate the occasion, I started in on the hind legs.  The legs were surprisingly chewy and almost jerky-like with a satisfying crunch to them.  I quickly chewed up the softer abdomen, the one part I thought I might have a problem with, but it wasn’t bad at all.   Between all of the garlic salt and frying the spider didn’t taste of much but junk food.

Before I had finished the front legs, I offered one to Rupert.  To my thorough amusement he cringed and only managed to choke down the leg under much duress.

The longer I think about it the more I wonder why eating insects is culturally so revolting to our western sensibilities.  It actually makes a lot of sense for them to be a part of our diets.  With such a short lifespan they are sustainable, easy to raise, cost-effective.  To make things better they are extremely healthy and rich in protein (although deep-frying might cut back on the healthy aspect).  All-in-all it seems to me that insects are an untapped environmentally-friendly food source.

Unfortunately when push comes to shove I think that it would be extremely hard for the majority of Westerners to overcome their deeply ingrained aversion to eating insects.  Even though I have eaten a cricket and a spider I am not sure if I could incorporate insects into my diet as more than a novelty food.   I am really not sure if I could suppress my gag reflex if I were served a plate of crickets for dinner.  But it really does make sense in a lot of ways.

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Responses

  1. Rupert is the one in a green shirt?

  2. OOOOh! I like your style! Cuisine on the crawl. Well written!


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