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MARCH/APRIL 2022, OUR 26TH YEAR
 
 
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ADVENTURES IN EATING: CAMBODIAN TARANTULAS
 
 
Story and photos by Yvette Cardozo
 

Editor’s note: This story was written before the Covid-19 pandemic. If you plan to travel to Cambodia, check current conditions and restrictions via the link below.

  This place gives new meaning to the concept of roadside rest stop. We’re taking about Skuon, better known locally in Cambodia as Spiderville.

  French fried Cambodian tarantula   Muching a tasty tarantula in Cambodia  
 
French fried Cambodian tarantula
 
Munching a tasty tarantula in Cambodia
 

  We’re not sure how or why this place started serving up furry arachnids to weary travelers, but now, for anyone traveling National Highway 7, it’s a must-pause on the journey.

  Located 47 miles north of Phnom Penh and 26 miles west of Kampong Cham, the place has become Cambodia’s answer to America’s South-of-the-Border just off I-95, with tourist buses and locals alike wandering the wares.
 
  Breaded, deep fried critters sit in artfully arranged mounds ... tarantulas, grasshoppers (large and small), silkworms, water bugs, tiny neon orange frogs and also only slightly less exotic displays of grilled quails (with head and beak), petite spotted hard boiled quail eggs and fruit that ranges from the mundane (oranges) to the not-so-common (durian).

  Cambodian quail eggs   Plate of tarantula, frog and grasshopper  
 
Quail eggs
 
Tarantula, frog and grasshopper
 

  And yes, I did a taste test.

  The tarantulas (50 cents apiece) had been breaded and stir-fried to a crisp with garlic and onions. One guide book claims they’re defanged in a nearby province where they’re farmed.

  “No, no, no,” My local friend said emphatically. “You eat it ALL!!”

  Um, and the poison?

  “That’s a problem only if it bites you. Not if you eat it,” he swore.

  I guess he was right because I chowed down without consequence.

  The whole thing comes off like soft-shelled crab, albeit a bit on the hairy side. And the best part? The crunchy, garlicky legs. Honest.

  As for the rest … truly, I had a problem with the grasshopper which, though it was green, reminded me way too much of the palmetto bugs (a kind of huge roach) that I grew up with in south Florida.

  The frog had been stuffed with lemon grass, which gave it a wonderful tang.

And yes, I tried durian. This is the infamously stinky Asian fruit that in some areas, is actually outlawed on public transport. In small amounts, it isn’t so stinky but the taste is overpowering. Frankly, when the air temperature is pushing mid 90s, a rich, overly sweet, pudding-like fruit just doesn’t work.

  And the bottom line on the tarantulas? Garlicky, salty, crunchy. Hmmm .... not a bad TV snack.

  French fried tarantula   Cambodian eating French fried tarantula  
 
French fried tarantula
 
Eating fried tarantula
 

MORE INFO

  Cambodia has two seasons ... wet and dry. Avoid the wet season (June - November) at all costs. Many roads, even main ones, are dirt and under construction. The mud can be axle deep.

  Cambodia is not far from the Equator. It is HOT and steamy and temperatures can reach 100 degrees, especially during wet season. If you can, stay in hotels with swimming pools.

  Don’t expect slick organization. This country was taken back to the stone age by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Most people over 40 don’t even know what year they were born. It’s been a slow recovery. But, cell phone signals are everywhere.

  The US dollar is the main currency. There really is no need to change large amounts of money. But make sure to bring a LOT of small bills ($1s and $5s) and they must be in perfect shape. No one will take any bill if it has the smallest rip. Ask for new, crisp bills at your bank.

  Cambodia tourism: https://www.tourismcambodia.com/