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Andy’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 31 Jan 2007

Location: Siam Reap to Sihanoukville, Cambodia


"Sir, you buy?" a woman asked with a plate of food balanced on her head.

An audible "Eeek!" escaped my lips. I don't recall ever making this noise when confronted by a women selling food, except perhaps in McDonalds. But this was no ordinary snack.

We were on route to Sihanoukville. Originally Ruth and I were to leave Siam Reap and head to Vietnam. Sihanoukville, a beach in Cambodia was on route and the others in our group were to spend two days there. It was not i our itinerary, but we oth wanted some beach time and there seemed little point leaving the group when they were heading in exactly our directin for the ext month. So, as the best travellers do, we changed our minds at the last minute. flexibility.

It was to be a whole day travelling. First we needed to backtrack to Phom Penh. The bus was packed but comfortable. Our lunchtime break was at a small roadside cafe in the middle of nowhere. As the bus stopped the usual hordes of women with plates of food balanced on their heads flocked around the bus waiting us all to diembark. Some of the plates caught my eye - the women weren't selling bread or fruit. What was it? I couldn't identify the black mass. Or perhaps i didn't want to.

I peered closer. Legs? Spindly, but chunky legs. Lots of them. But what of? A women took a handful and put them in a brown paper bag then turned to ask if i wanted any. It was then the embarrassing noise slipped out of my mouth.

Spiders! Huge, black and hairy tarantulas, deep fried until crisp.
This was fast food, Cambodian style - fries not included.

Months ago, when planning this trip, i read about an area of Cambodia where tarantulas are considered a delicacy.
Eight-legged ingredients had long been used in traditional medicine. Their conversion to a staple foodstuff began during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. As society began to implode, people began to starve. People ate anything as a matter of survival. With the overthrow of Pol Pot's regime most Cambodians resorted to a traditional diet, except the Skuonese. Chicken, pork and beef was evidently not satisfying enough anymore. Nowadays dedicated spider hunters catch several hundred a day and arachnocuisine has put the town firmly on the alternative culinary map. Apparently the best spider is one plucked fresh from its burrow and fried with garlic and salt.

So what does a spider taste like? Let me tell you. The legs are crunchy, with little flesh in them. The head and body have a delicate white meat inside that tastes like chicken (few surprises there). Lastly there is the large globular abdomen bursting with a dark brown paste. This delightful mixture of eggs and excrement is the delicacy.

How do i know what it tastes like? Because i read it! What did you think?! Back in the comfort of my home i vowed to eat one. How hard can it be? What's the big deal? The big deal is, it's a fricking spider. I'm scared of money spiders, not to mention ones that could have guest-starred on Arachnophobia. They were as big as my palm. So of course i bottled it. A Cambodian women in front of us on the coach was far braver than me and sat eating a whole juicy bagful while the westerners on the coach sat wide-eyed and mouthed.

Sitting in this internet cafe i have somehow kidded myself that if i could go back i would definitely try one.