Arts and Culture

Waiter, there's a spider in my food

Glynnis Underhill

A Cambodian market in the town of Skuon, 75km outside the capital of Phnom Penh, is the place to visit if you really want to see how the locals eat.

Tucking into a plate of fried spiders may present a challenge, even for foodies craving diversity.

But the local Cambodian market in the town of Skuon, 75km outside the capital of Phnom Penh, is the place to visit if you really want to see how the locals eat.

Stacked spiders from the tarantula species beckoned from sacks, deep-fried, black and shiny. Beside this enticing display, you will find other sacks filled with fried crickets, ready for tasting. Both are considered regional delicacies that many locals relish for special occasions.

Fresh-faced children lead you around the market, introducing you to the wares in broken English.

‘Spider, spider,” said a young boy, pointing to a tub, filled to the brim with the regional delicacy.

‘Come look, I will pick one up for you to see.”

Crawling around on leaves in the tub he points to are live tarantulas, which the locals buy to cook at home. Food doesn’t get much fresher than this.

The spiders are bred in holes in the ground or captured in nearby forests, and later fried in oil, without any flavouring.

A strong stomach?

Cambodian guide Ang Rong Oum said spiders are one of his all-time favourite dishes. The way he likes them is when they are fried in salt and garlic until the legs are crispy.

‘Many people say there is not enough meat on a spider, but there is lots of meat on the head and body,” he said.

Although they were not on display at the busy Skuon market, Ang Rong Oum said many locals are just as happy tucking into geckos or ­scorpions.

Although he is not sure when the practice started, he said food was scarce during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 and people had to become extremely resourceful.

Another local favourite is the river snake.

According to Cambodians, it is a must to try. If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can pick one from a glass display before taking your seat, and enjoy it deep-fried and tossed with garlic and lime.


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