Whenever people talk about going to Cambodia, one of the first things they bring up, other than the Angkor Wat Temples, is that you can eat bugs there. If you know me at all, you know that I’m one curious foodie. I will eat things that are questionably edible, because, well, what if they’re delicious!? So when we got to Siem Reap, I knew I wanted to eat bugs. This may sound strange to some, but to me, it’s not.
Was I grossed out? Yeah, at first, I was, I won’t lie. But if Michelin-star chef Alex Atala in Brazil serves bugs on his menu, they can’t be that bad! Especially considering that bugs feed about 2 billion people a day in places like Africa, Asia and Latin America. Sometimes, they are even considered delicacies. One quarter of the world’s population can’t be that wrong!
Why would I do it? Well that’s easy! To me, bugs are the future of food. We’ve grown our food industry totally out of proportion. When the meat you eat is pumped with hormones, and the fish you catch comes from polluted waters, going vegetarian was an easy choice for me. Don’t even get me started on the health benefits and environmentally-conscious reasons for going with a plant-based diet! So if you want a good source of protein, that is tasty, and that leaves a minimal footprint on our planet, well, BUGS!
So one faithful night in Siem Reap, after a few drinks with friends (yes, liquid courage was required), we set out to find the best bugs the night market had to offer. Luckily, we were intercepted by a friendly local who took us out to find the best vendor. If you set out to try some insects, know that a lot of the vendors on Pub Street don’t always use fresh produce. How long do you think they keep those bugs on sticks when they don’t get sold that night? Well not this vendor! She only uses the freshest stuff. So much so, that another night, when looking for her again, she was nowhere to be found because her farmers had not been able to find any insects that day. Now that’s integrity!
As you can see from her smile, she is something special! Small but feisty, she knows her bugs! Her crickets are farmed, grown to become food. Her scorpions are sourced from the jungle, as are her grass snakes. And her tarantulas, well, they are foraged up from 40cm deep underground. She runs a tight ship. She knows when her products are good to eat. And if you trust her, like I did, you’ll let her pick the bug you’re going to eat. Yes, she will pick the biggest tarantula, it will have a huge body and hairy legs, but it will be delicious! She will even suggest eating one that has a large belly full of eggs, those are even tastier!
Like all things food, it’s all about the prep! She will roast your meal right in front of you to make sure they have the perfect texture. She doesn’t just serve her bugs plain, that would be boring. Her crickets are marinated and cooked with lemongrass, chilli and lime juice. Crunchy with just the right amount of kick!
How did I do it? Well, the drinks helped the first night, I won’t lie! But like with any weird meal, you have to get over your conceived notions about them before you take a bite. I just stopped thinking of the bugs as being gross things. I trusted this woman and her integrity when it comes to her products. They are sourced properly, they are prepared with care and they are cooked well. Can you say that about the food you eat every day? So when crickets stopped being bugs, when tarantulas stopped being insanely scary-looking spiders, they just became food. And like I said, I like food (ok, I LOVE food).
How was it? Well, it was delicious! So much so that I went back for seconds. I could have eaten a full bag of crickets. That’s how good they were!
What did it taste like? That is hard to say! She said the scorpion tastes like chicken and the spiders like bacon, but I haven’t had either in so long, that it’s hard to say for me. The spiders’ legs were crispy, like those little bits of fries that are at the bottom of your plate. The body had a nice texture to it, crunchy on the outside because it was seared on the BBQ, but tender on the inside. The crickets, my favourite, were like eating the half-popped kernels of popcorn.
Would I have them again back home? Yes, yes and yes. Bugs are extremely nutritious. For example, crickets are a great source of lean protein, vitamins and minerals, containing about 65% protein, omega 3, fatty acids, calcium and vitamin B12. Other insects can contain up to 80% protein, and have huge amounts of iron (sometimes, more than beef). Obviously, I would have to find the fresh produce to make sure they are as delicious as hers, but yes, I would not hesitate making bugs a regular part of our meals. There are even chip companies that make their products with crickets. This is becoming more and more mainstream, as evidenced by big wig investor Marc Cuban putting his money behind this brand.
If I could, I would have stayed with my bug lady in Siem Reap and helped her sell more bugs. It’s crazy how people who saw me eating them would stop and stare. When they saw how much I enjoyed them, going for seconds and thirds, they also joined in. And without fail, they would all say how delicious they thought these creepy crawly critters were.
So get over your fears, and those preconceived notions about bugs and let’s all eat them together! Bon appétit!
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