Originally Published in Exploration Online Magazine: http://exploration-online.co.uk/article.php?id=46
Deep fried bugs. To most Westerners this is the stuff of a food hygiene nightmare but in many far Eastern countries they are something of a delicacy. I first encountered them whilst traveling around Cambodia in 2009 and I was horrified. Of course I had heard that deep fried insects were perfectly normal out there but it hadn’t quite prepared me for the sight of large groups of locals hanging out on street corners, casually chomping on locusts.
Most of us have probably seen that HSBC advert where the Cambodian farmer catches the flying insects to keep them off his crops, then cooks them and sells them (as you do), but the bugs that Cambodia is actually most famous for are its edible spiders. About 47 miles North of Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh lies the market town Skuon or, as it’s more commonly known by tourists, Spiderville. As I was told it, in this part of Cambodia locals have long used huge tarantulas in traditional medicine but during the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime they were forced to eat them in order to avoid starvation. Out of this many locals discovered a new found love of this curious snack and they are now considered a regional delicacy.
Most commonly found fried whole in garlic and sold by street vendors these spiders look ferocious. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what they taste like from personal experience. During a rest stop in Skuon I did have the opportunity to try some spider, or ‘a-ping’ as the locals call it, but I chickened out…mostly because the giggling Cambodian man behind me in the queue told my friend and I that ‘yeah they taste nice, but sometimes you get a bad poisonous one and ooo you don’t want to know happens’. I’m 99% sure he was having a laugh but that, combined with the sight of kids eating hairy spider legs, was enough to put me off. However one of our group was brave enough to give it a try and he summed up the taste of the surprisingly meaty on the inside arachnid as ‘kind of bland’ with a texture ‘somewhere between that of chicken and fish’. I think I’ll stick to chicken and fish, but in the spirit of this month’s focus on East Asian food if you would like to try this at home check out this delicious sounding recipe:
Whole A-Ping Spiders (Haplopelma albostriatum)
A Heap of Salt
A Heap of Sugar
1. Dribble some oil over the spiders and toss them in the salt and sugar
2. Fry the garlic in the remaining oil until fragrant
3. Fry the spiders in the oil until the legs are completely stiff