Remember that time I ate a cricket?
Or that time my friend Karl paid me a dollar to eat a bug that had fallen into my mocha at brunch?
Also, there was one time when I discover that there was a worm in the apple I was eating and I threw it across the room (but let’s not talk about that).
Well I went WAAAAY far past that level of craziness last week.
I had just arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the week and I figured that the best way to spend my first night in the city was to have a nice meal and walk around. My friend (and fellow intern in Timor-Leste) Andrew lives in Singapore and makes frequent trips to Phnom Penh and provided me with a wealth of suggestions for great places to eat.
Andrew especially recommended Romdeng. Romdeng was located on a quiet street off a main road. There were lights strung all around and people milling about and I immediately got the feeling my meal was going to be great.
I sat down for a romantic dinner for one and poured over the menu. Looking at the appetizer section, I saw an offering I had read about online. It was so crazy, so scary, so strange, that I knew (and you knew too, let’s admit it) that I had to try it.
I was a little intimidated by the size, I’ll admit. If I saw one of these guys in real life, I’d head in the opposite direction. It was comforting knowing that I had power over them when they were dead and that they only crawling they would be doing was through my digestive system.
Imagine me, sitting alone in a restaurant in a city in a different country. The waiter brings a plate of tarantulas for me to eat and I receive looks of equal parts shock, horror, and amusement from a nearby table of save-the-world-girls who are about my age.
And so I dug in. I started with the legs. I braced myself for the bulging abdomen but I found it pretty nutty or legume-y. The flavors weren’t very strong. The chili lime sauce these spiders came with was helpful in adding flavor. After getting rid of the mental stumbling block, the weirdest part about eating all three of these suckers was the crunchiness of all of their insides! (I know you wanted that detail). I probably had serious looks on my face throughout the tarantula eating process, as I was trying to discern the different flavors and trying to process the fact that I was eating tarantulas. I would certainly eat one again. There’s a whole world of bugs that I have yet to try.
Here’s the history lesson I will leave you with – I heard that eating tarantulas was not a common practice in Cambodia until fairly recently. Under the regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, food was as scarce as scarce could be and people turned to eating critters like spiders. Now, they certainly continue eating tarantulas, but this was a nice restaurant catering to tourists who were into the idea of Romdeng’s social enterprise (they provide job training to underprivileged children) and excellent fusion food so I think it’s more of thing to shock tourists than anything else.