Monday, August 06, 2007

Crunch Time, Part II

On every bus ride there are rest stops. There is always food for sale, from cooked meals to prepackaged snacks. On the ride from Kampong Cham to Kampot, in a small town called Skuon in Eastern Cambodia, we were treated to a unique snack, a Cambodia delicacy if you will: the fried spider. I’d already eaten crickets, grasshoppers and termites, and I’d promised someone during a night of drinking that I’d eat a spider, so my time had come. There was no avoiding the inevitable; I was going to eat an arachnid.

Lonely Planet says locals hunt the spiders, a species of tarantula called an "a-ping" in Khmer, in the surrounding hills. According to legend, the villagers started eating the spiders during the Khmer Rouge regime, when food was scarce. The locals have developed a taste for hairy creatures, however, and I’m sure a steady stream of tourists injects a bit of revenue into the economy.

By the time I’d disembarked from the bus, our tour leader, Kevin, had already found a live specimen and was posing for photographs with the creature. He handed it to me and I let it crawl up my arm. It was ugly as sin, but harmless. I then bought one of the cooked spiders, for 500 riel or twelve and a half U.S. cents, and prepared to eat my mid-morning “snack.”

Live Tarantula

Dead Tarantula

The bugs I’d eaten in Phnom Penh were tasteless; any flavor came from the oil they were fried in. The spider, however, was a little meaty. The method for eating a deep-friend spider is to pluck the legs off one by one and pop them into your mouth. Each leg, when separated from the body, includes a tiny piece of white flesh, a morsel with the consistency of crab and the taste of chicken. Just kidding. There is a hint of sweetness to the flesh, but mostly it’s flavorless. The rest of the leg is crunchy and tastes of oil.

Doesn't Taste Like Chicken

When I’d polished off the eight legs (okay, I only ate six, giving two of the legs to some children), I broke the body in half, separating the torso from the abdomen. Kevin told me abdomen is nasty, and Lonely Planet concurred, describing a morsel “which seems to be filled with some pretty nasty-tasting brown sludge, which could be anything from eggs to excrement.” I passed on the abdomen, but ate the rest of the bug, including the head. It was no better than the legs, and took a long time to chew. I should have known that an exoskeleton would require extra effort to get down. Still, I persevered and ended up spitting out only the small bits that got stuck in my teeth.

Postcard Moment

Will I eat another deep-fried spider? I can’t say. All I know is that a week later, at another rest stop during another bus ride, I jumped at the chance to sample a dish of sautéed red ants. This time, unlike the crickets, grasshoppers and spiders, there was a distinct and pleasant flavor. I ate three heaping spoonfuls.

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Blogger Sandy J said...

matt eats tarantula!! awesome. you are superhuman. either that or really dumb. perhaps both. thank you for not eating the torso. but the description is A-One. grrrrhhhhllllhhhhhh is what i have to say.

sounds like "Crun-chewy."

continuing to be the best blog ever by the way. you never disappoint. thanks matt!

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

grrrrr-ose. But highly entertaining.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Bernie B said...

Matt, now I will have to eat insects or risk being called a lightweight

5:59 AM  

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