Sunday, July 22, 2007

Crunch Time

It was late afternoon on my first day in Phnom Penh. I was wandering around outside the Royal Palace when I noticed a few carts piled with baskets of something edible. Never one to pass up a chance to inspect the local cuisine, I moved closer. It didn't take long to realize the baskets contained piles of fried insects. There were beetles, crickets and grasshoppers. There was a pile of green things that looked like large ants and another pile of something that I assumed was still in its larval stage. There were also small frogs and deep-fried baby birds. But who cares about frogs and birds when you are staring at a basket of fried bugs?

Bug Cart

The girl selling the snacks told me I could take as many pictures as I wanted for $1 (Cambodia uses U.S. currency). My instinct was to take the photos and move on. Wrong. I'm traveling to experience local culture, bugs and all. So I sampled the product.

I started with the smallest cricket, ignoring as much as I could the beady eyes and broken legs. I was expecting something mushy, perhaps with a bitter aftertaste of internal goo. What I tasted, however, resembled an oily tidbit of deep-friend charcoal. Ok, maybe the crickets don't retain their natural flavors, their essence lost when they are plunged into a vat of bubbling oil. I moved to the larger grasshoppers (locusts? large crickets? who knows). Crunchier, but still like eating the shavings from a piece of burnt toast. Perhaps the green ants and spring onions was what I was looking for? Better, with a hint of sweetness, but still unremarkable. Where does a guy have to go to get a plate of tasty bugs around here? Jeez!



I passed on beetles, pupae and frogs. But in a drunken state last night I promised two of the women on my tour that the next time we encounter bugs I will eat a beetle. I think I even promised to eat a hairy spider. When in Rome...

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