Cambodia’s Crunchy Crawlies: Andrew Vs. Exotic “Food”
Spiders, snakes, frogs…
There’s no limit to what the Cambodians eat, at least back in the days of Khmer Rouge when food was in short supply and these critters could provide a steady nutritional source of protein.
When I passed by the crunchy crawlies market nearby Pub Street in Siem Reap, my mind was racing through “should I? should I not?” before I finally braced my inner survivalist to exchange some riel for a curious eating experience.
And here’s the conversation inside my head:
Round 1: Ravenous for Reptile
“So uhm… which one should I eat first?”
“Definitely not the tarantula. It’s the most interesting of the bunch, no question. But let’s start with something milder.”
“What about the snake? It looks interesting too.”
“It does. And reptiles don’t bug me as much as insects. They’re kinda creepy to encounter deep inside the jungle. But dead, harmless and BBQed, they couldn’t taste worse than a baby octopus right?”
I inched the snake-on-a-stick closer to my tongue, expecting the flesh to taste like a cross between baby octopus and fish, took one last breath and bit the wiggling creature’s head.
“It’s kinda… tough. I thought this one would be chewy, but nope, fried snake tastes like an overcooked dried skin. It’s like chewing on dried wood.”
Verdict: Maybe there’s another method of cooking snake that would make this crawly more tasty, but as far as fried snake goes, not for me.
Round 2: Appetite for Amphibian
“This one should be easy for me.”
“Yeah, I’ve eaten frog a few times before. And it’s kind of savory, in fact. This one looks a bit different though.”
“Yeah. The last time I ate frog at a dim sum restaurant, they were drenched with spices. And the other time I had it was a deep-fried meaty frog with pleasant smell. But this one… they look like a couple of freshly-caught frogs thrown into a boiling water for 5 minutes and that’s it. They don’t even bother to pour some seasoning.”
“And they look kind of sad, with their limbs and heads splayed in every direction.”
I put a pair of frog legs inside my mouth and crunched it with my teeth.
“Slightly salty, but not too bad. This must be the thinnest frog I’ve ever savored, which kinda makes it more crispy.”
Verdict: Not exactly mouth-watering, but with its crispy texture, I can imagine these frog legs being mass-packaged and sold in supermarkets as after-school snacks for kids. Just don’t reveal the ingredient to their conservative parents, I guess.
Round 3: Savoring the Spider
I looked at those hairy legs and imagined the horror that lies inside the spidey’s abdomen… and paused for quite some time.
“It’s itsy-bitsy spider’s time.”
“You know what. Insects really bug me. I don’t mind eating reptiles, amphibians, fishes, mammals, anything… they’re all meat. But insects are different breeds altogether. Smooth, squashy texture. And as you grind your teeth into its hairy body, the liquid inside it starts to melt in your tongue like chocolate… but worse. Much, much worse.”
“But you haven’t even tasted it.”
“I know, but… *sigh* Okay, deep breath.”
I tore one of the spidey’s limbs and began feasting on it.
“Funnily, this is the best so far. Mostly because of the hairy legs, which give it a ‘pork floss’ kind of texture. It’s crispy on the outside, and slightly meaty inside. The meat tastes kind of bland though, and perhaps a little undercooked.”
I decided to skip the torso as I couldn’t ascertain how well-cooked the interior is. It was my first day in Siem Reap and I couldn’t afford to fall sick.
Verdict: It’s the most thrilling and definitely the one that I’ll most likely find myself returning to in the future. Sad that I didn’t get to try the abdomen, but dubious street-side spider? Not this time. Perhaps next time when these little spideys are properly served in a restaurant plate, preferably with lots of MSG and spices to help make whatever organs await inside more palatable to my taste buds.
So that’s the end of my little “food” adventure. I ain’t gonna turn my holiday into a full course of critter feast, so I decided to stick with fish amok (pictured below) and other more conventional exotic delicacies for the rest of my trip.
Yummy! Finally something exquisite.
What are the most bizarre cuisine that you’ve ever eaten?