Weird food: Cambodia
This is the first in what will hopefully be a series on weird foods that I see around the world. The articles will be on food that as a carnivorous westerner I find odd. It’s not judging other cultures, just highlighting certain features of them which are different to my own…
I was in Cambodia about six weeks ago, and I was witness to some of the most bizarre food being sold and eaten that I’ve experienced.
I’d heard of the general availability of spiders and insects as food in Cambodia for some time, and was surprised after arriving in Siem Reap that I couldn’t find any in any of the markets.
I thought for sure, when I got to the capital, Phnom Penh, I would find them quite easily. I scoured all the markets in the city in search of my prey. Finally I found a small vendor in an alley at Psar Thmei, Phnom Penh’s central market who was selling assorted insects!
I asked her if she had any spiders, and she did not. What I was seeking was still out there, somewhere!
After a couple of days in Phnom Penh and no sign of spiders, I decided to get a car and a driver to take me several hours out of the city to a village called Skuon, known colloquially as “Spiderville”.
Apparently the residents of Skuon, as well as in other areas of Cambodia, started eating spiders out of desperation during the dark days of Khmer Rouge rule. The Skuon locals took a liking, and now choose to eat spiders for the taste.
So, we arrive in Skuon and I’m offered insects by lots of people. I appear to be the only non-Cambodian in town. I walk around the markets and, while very interesting, still no spiders.
I speak no Cambodian, and most people in Skuon don’t speak English so I had my driver translate and ask around where we could find some spiders. As it was the beginning of the dry season, it turned out that the spiders all go away and so they were effectively out of season.
Someone finally told my driver about a restaurant on the highway about 10km out of town that may have some. We quickly got in the car and drove to the restaurant. Lo and behold, we found them.
That’s right, spiders. Deep fried tarantulas to be exact. I couldn’t bring myself to try one. The children were trying to convince me that it’s nice, and to just try a leg. I should have! I think it will be one of my life’s regrets for not having tasted them. Anyway, I bought half a dozen and gave them to the kids.
After seeing the spiders, we began the long drive back to Phnom Penh.
Mikey had been sick with terrible food poisoning, and so was sleeping in the hotel room most of Phnom Penh. By the second last day, he was ready to venture out. We walked down the street the afternoon the day after I visited Skuon, and on the very street our hotel was on was a car selling all sorts of odd foods, including… tarantulas! A different cart was there the next day also. I could’ve saved a long trip! Oh well.
The cart was also selling insects and snakes on skewers, yummo! I think some of the insects were cockroaches.
The weird food that Cambodia has to offer wasn’t all unpalatable (or more to the point, wasn’t all too scary to try!). “Happy” pizzas are very common across the country. These are pizzas with, err, different herbs spread all over them. You can ask for it as happy as you’d like. Mikey and I ordered a couple of pizzas at “Happy Angkor” in Siem Reap. One just happy, and one extra happy.
It takes a while to come on, but when it hits you, oh boy does it hit you! Made for a very fun evening! The pizza itself was quite awful however. Well worth it though!
In Cambodian culture, as with a lot of South East Asian cultures, no part of an animal goes to waste. You can find entire pigs heads and pigs trotters in markets quite commonly.
I’m not certain what animal these small brains were from.
Now for a couple of the more disturbing scenes from Cambodian markets. Frogs are eaten in Cambodia, and they are sold still alive for freshness. Unfortunately sometimes they are also skinned alive, and can be seen jumping around with no skin on them.
As refrigeration is not as common in poorer parts of the world, food is kept fresh by keeping the animals alive as long as possible. For the poor chickens however, this means that their legs are bound, and their wings are broken to prevent them escaping.
And thus concludes the first post in Nick’s Universe’s Weird Foods series! Next up, Vietnam.
Complete Cambodia photo gallery: http://www.nickspics.net/v/Travel/Cambodia_2009