While strange foods are eaten around the world, even the most gastronomically adventurous are unlikely to have tried the Cambodian delicacy of fried tarantula!
Like many of the world’s weirder fare, fried tarantula has its origins in necessity; in this case the murderous reign of Pol Pot. Those who survived the Khmer Rouge often existed on the brink of starvation – a point at which even the tarantula begins to look appetising. Easy to catch, simple to prepare (10 minutes in oil and they’re done), and full of nourishment (high protein, folic acid and zinc), these spiders were once quite literally life-saving.
Today, fried tarantula (usually rolled in sugar or garlic) is considered a popular snack food in Cambodia – the equivalent of a mid-morning tiropita. Priced at roughly 20 cents apiece, they’re a particular favourite in the town of Skuon, just north of the capital Phnom Penh. But they’re certainly not the only food on the menu: if you’re looking at the country’s current fare, then it’s samlor korkor that tops the list.
Eaten for hundreds of years, this nourishing soup is the unofficial national dish of Cambodia. Adapted to whatever’s available and in season, samlor korkor most often contains catfish, pork belly, and a host of veggies. But it always contains prahok (a local, fermented fish) and kroeung (a spicy curry paste).
Also on the menu is nom banh chok (often referred to simply as ‘Khmer noodles’), a dish consisting of rice noodles topped with a fish-based curry sauce and sprinkled with beans and edible flowers. Then there’s amok, a curry made from fresh coconut milk, snails (though chicken or fish can be used), and a uniquely Cambodian herb, slok ngor, which imparts a bitter flavour. And also bok trop pgnon, a traditional workers’ food that’s made from a mix of grilled and pounded aubergine, garlic and chillies, and served alongside fresh veggies.
Of course, if you’re still feeling daring after your spidery appetiser, you could always give frog a go. Available at roadside stalls across the country, these local frogs are stuffed with minced pork and roasted peanuts, splashed in a mix of turmeric, garlic and lime, and grilled over hot coals.