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Posts Tagged ‘deep-fried tarantula’

Road Trip Cambodia: Itsy Bitsy Spiders?

August 20, 2010 2 comments

This is the post many of you have been eagerly anticipating.  I mentioned in a previous post that deep-fried tarantulas are sold as a roadside snack in Cambodia, but I was not about to try those in particular after seeing the layers of dirt that coated them after vehicles went flying by.  In Phnom Penh, I was able to find them on the menu at Romdeng, a reputable restaurant that I wrote about before, which serves fried tarantulas in a more sterile environment.

We didn’t see fried tarantula being sold everywhere in the country.  Our guide in Siem Reap told us that they are the local delicacy of Skuon, a town about 45 miles outside of Phnom Penh near where he grew up.  They appear to be abundantly available there in the local forests, although people also breed them.  While no one really knows how fried tarantulas became a food source in Skuon, many believe that the starvation faced by millions of Cambodians during the dark era of Khmer Rouge rule has something to do with it.

So what do deep-fried tarantulas taste like?  I found them rather tasty and would definitely eat them again.  The chefs at Romdeng cover their version with a savory/sweet coating, almost like a watered-down barbecue sauce, before frying them to a crisp.  The tarantulas were served with a pepper and lime dipping sauce that added heat while enhancing the savory/sweet coating with brightness from the citrus.  The tarantulas themselves were very crunchy on the outside, while the inside was somewhat neutral in flavor (akin to chicken) with a nutty aftertaste.  I think they would pair nicely with some cold beer while watching football.  Spiders don’t scare me, so I had no trouble eating them.  As a young child, I was already eating a variety of animals and their various parts long before consuming unique foods or offal became popular with foodies.  Edna Krabappel had a little more trouble, but I give her credit for trying a small bit of the leg before giving up.  Although Edna is usually an adventurous eater, the look and feel of the giant spiders were just a bit too much for her to fathom ingesting.

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Road Trip Cambodia: Road Side Treats

July 27, 2010 1 comment

One of my favorite things about road trips is snacking.  Usually, in my regular life, I try to eat somewhat healthy and stick to three square meals a day — very little snacking allowed and when I do, it’s usually something healthy like fruit or a granola bar.  When on vacation, however, I allow myself to (over)indulge, which includes snacking on whatever catches my eye at the moment.

In Cambodia, snacking appears to be very popular.  Most snacks sold are cheap and fulfill impulse needs.  On most streets and in the local markets, you are likely to find vendors hawking everything from a can of Coke to durian to snails.

The snacks that intrigued Edna Krabappel and I the most were the ones sold at road side stands near bus stops.  These stands exist because of a conveniently available market: people traveling throughout the country via buses, cars, minivans, motos, and tuk-tuks stopping in designated towns (usually at some designated restaurant) to use the bathroom or refuel.

On our way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, we saw the above items for sale.  On the left is a large pile of deep-fried grasshoppers with green onion and chilis.  I won’t deny that the smell from the deep frying (like perfectly cooked french fries) made me want to buy some, but I thought better of it once I saw the cloud of dust that graced the grasshoppers after a bus went by.  On the right are what I believe are deep-fried waterbugs.  While the grasshoppers didn’t scare me, the sight of the waterbugs were less than appealing.

At a different bus stop, vendors were selling a variety of other deep-fried products.  In the picture to the left, starting in the foreground, you can see some sort of bird-like creature.

Edna and I debated whether they were bats or maybe some other flying creatures, but we couldn’t figure it out (and the ladies who were selling the goods weren’t very fluent in English).

Behind the birds/bats/whatever sits a pile of tarantulas (more on them in a later post).  Behind the tarantulas were frogs and behind the frogs were more grasshoppers.

While I was once again tempted to give one or all of these a try, Edna reminded me that being on a bus for many hours with a tummy ache and no bathroom may not be in my best interest.

Regardless, these products appeared to be pretty fresh as demonstrated by one of the nice vendor ladies and her “friend.”

Holiday in Cambodia

June 30, 2010 2 comments

As J. Frankfurter mentioned earlier, we have been somewhat delinquent in posting as of late.  Not to make excuses, but life has been very busy for both of us these past couple of weeks.  I’ve been preoccupied with trying to clear my docket because I will soon leave for a two-week vacation in Cambodia.

With my trusty cameras (yes, plural) and shiny new netbook in tow, I plan to blog parts of my trip — focusing on the culinary portions, naturally.  Keep your fingers crossed for WiFi.

Just to give you a sneak peak, I will now provide a primer on Cambodian food.  Khmer cuisine is similar to the cuisines of Thailand and Vietnam but often characterized, rightly or wrongly, as less favorful and less spicy than that of its neighbors.  Khmer cuisine has also been influenced by India (see: curry), France (see: baguette, coffee and pâté) and China (see: noodles and/or everything in Asia).

Rice is, of course, a staple part of the Khmer diet.  Many Cambodian dishes are flavored with prahok, a pungent fermented fish paste, as well as kroeung, a spice paste that blends ingredients such as lemon grass, kaffir lime zest and leaves, galangal, tumeric, ginger, garlic, shallots and chilis.

National dishes that use prahok and kroeung include samlor kako (a soup heavy on the vegetables), samlor machu (a sour soup flavored with tamarind that is similar to Vietnamese canh chua) and amok (some protein — likely fish, chicken or tofu — steamed in a coconut curry in banana leaves). 

Here in New York, where we can pretty much get whatever we want, whenever we want, there is a striking absence of Cambodian restaurants in comparison to the numerous Thai and Vietnamese options.  Is it because Cambodia lost an entire generation due to the Khmer Rouge, leaving few to pass on the knowledge of Cambodian cuisine to the surviving generations?  Or is it because Americans are not familiar enough with Cambodia in general to accept its food?  Matthew Fishbane has an interesting article over on Salon about the lack of Cambodian food in the U.S.

My travel companion for the trip (hereinafter, “Edna Krabappel”) has never been to Southeast Asia.  In addition to write-ups about Khmer cuisine as prefaced above, future posts will also include her reaction to trying certain fruits native to the area including jackfruit, rambutan, longan, sour sop, mangosteen and the ever infamous durian (J. Frankfurter’s favorite; his wife has a differing opinion).  Let’s just see if Ms. Krabappel is brave enough to try the deep-fried tarantula!