Thursday, December 16, 2010

Crunchy Crawlies

Hey guys!

So the last time I went travelling to the other exotic countries around Southeast Asia, I managed to screw up my courage to try some bamboo worms, but that was all just smallfry. This time, in Cambodia, I was about to go for the big fish! On the third day of my stay in the city of Siem Reap, we visited the "Old Market"; an interesting melting pot of local and tourist products that truly gave the place its unique sights, sounds, and more importantly, smells. First of all, if you have trouble acclimiting yourself to the sight (and smell) of animal carcasses hanging from hooks on racks this is not the place for you!

Animal entrails and cured meats hanging at the entrance of the "Old market" add a splash of colour and a salty tang in the air.

Tightly knit vendors peddling their wares! Most of the vendors in this portion of the market catered to locals and did not bother much with tourists like myself!
But if you think that creepy cuisine like fried spiders and broiled worms are extremely common in even such marketplaces you might very well be mistaken. Indeed for all intents and purposes the "Old Market" of Siem Reap resembled nothing so much as the wet markets that we have back here at home. However, after some searching and weaving amongst chicken carcasses and vegetables we managed to come upon, more by chance than anything else a store that sold the exact tihng I was looking for.

Deep Fried Tarantulas!
 Alright, so when sampling some of the more exotic of creepy cuisines there are a few things an adventurous traveller might take comfort in knowing. First of all, large though these spiders may be, Tarantula venom is not known to be deadly to humans at all and in fact, when cooking or preparing these creatures most chefs take care to break off, first, the fangs. Even so, you can very easily remove them yourself. Anyway, having found the spiders I found the proprieter of the stand less than welcoming towards me and my camera (probably believing me to be some gawking tourist, here to capture his wares and then rant on about how disgusting Cambodian food was) but when I expressed my interest in purchasing some spiders for myself, he instantly lit up. Though I'm sure he was ripping me off still and tha the locals would have probably gotten this popular Cambodian snack at a much cheaper price, 1 US dollar for 2 spiders was a small sum of money that I was willing to pay to sample some Cambodian delicacies.

The lucky pair that I chose; a small one for the testing and an even larger one for good measure!

By then of course my presence at the spider-stand had attracted more than a handful of other vendors all possibly interested at the prospect of an "outsider" sampling what must be one of their more intimidating of delicacies. A young man was even kind enough to explain to me the beneficial properties of Tarantula flesh on the human digestive system - I got a three dollar discount at his shop later on when I bought a pair of trousers - and yet another woman even offered me the recipe to prepare and cook these spiders! I daresay I won't be coming by any tarantulas anytime soon, but I will nontheless share the recipe here for all who wish to try.

The Spiders

Okay, so since the locals were kind enough to offer me the recipe for this delicacy I will return the favour by sharing it here for all to see. But first, some background information on the spider itself (this is, after all a nature blog more than it is a travel blog, so bear with me).
Haplopelma Albostriatum (Thai Zebra Tarantula)
The spider in mention is non-other than Haplopelma Albostriatum or the Thai Zebra Tarantula. These spiders, which are about in average palm-sized are rumored to have a venom more potent that most tarantulas although, I was assured that the poison could only hurt and was not strong enough to kill. However, what makes these spiders eligible for the palate perhaps lies in the fact that they originate from the order of "Old World Tarantulas" meaning that they have minimul fur on their bodies, none of which are poisonous (most Tarantulas have "urticating hairs" on their bodies which causes irritation when in contact with skin or eyes and can be used by the spider in self-defense)

In Cambodia, these spiders are called "a-ping" in the official Cambodian tongue and it is believed that the practice might have started during the oppressive years of the Khmer Rouge where locals, in desperation would forage and hunt for these spiders in the forests when other sorts of food are in short supply. These days, the dish of deep-friend Tarantulas have become some sort of a popular delicacy amongst the Cambodians, and perhaps even brave tourists and in certain villages north of the Cambodian town of Skuon, these spiders are even bred in burrows for this purpose.

Crispy Tarantula with Lime and Kampot Black Pepper

And so that is some the information on the spiders, but what good is information on the animal if you don't know how to cook it? Below is a recipe, given to me by a Cambodian woman herself on how to prepare this strange and hair-raising dish.

you will need:
Fresh Tarantulas
2 Cups of sugar
2 Cups of salt
8 Cloves of garlic (diced)

1. Kill the Tarantulas by pressing really hard on their bodies but without rupturing their abdomens. Wash them in water until clean and then remove their fangs.
2. Combine the sugar and salt in a bit of water and marinate spiders
3. Heat oil and fry the garlic until crispy
4. Remove the garlic and then fry spiders until the legs are stiff
5. Serve them with dip on the side.

Anyway, there's no use just talking about it, now's the time to start tasting it.
The spiders were crunchy and I must say the vendor at the stall cooked them to perfection. Crispy and crunchy and slightly sweet even, probably on account of the sugar. There was still a bit of fuzz on the spider's legs and those tickled the throat slightly as they were going down. Anyway, I made a video on it as well which is up on youtube that you can check out here 

Anyway, there were some other pretty freaky looking things in Cambodia that I still haven't tried yet though and one of these I'm sure you will find as they are pretty common in all the markets I visited, both "local" and "tourists"

Creepies in a bottle anyone?
And these, though they look like it, are not Halloween decorations but rather, Cobras, Scorpions and all manner of medicinal herbs and roots soaking in a yellow-colored alcoholic liquid that is distilled from the creatures themselves. Like the tarantulas, I was told too that these are incredibly beneficial - for blood circulation and *cough* manly organs *cough* it seems - though becase I am not partial to alcohol myself I never quite mustered enough gusto to purchase a bottle and try it. At least the spider was seasoned... but snake/scorpion/medicine flavored whisky? Maybe not for now. Anyways I hope you enjoyed reading about the spiders almost as much as I enjoyed eating them and I suppose the next time you go to Cambodia, do try one. It's really not that bad once you've gotten down to it although, first timers might want to stay away from the abdomen (supposedly the "best" part but you know when the locals tell you its "best", it's going to take some accustoming to before liking it oneself). Well, until the next creepy snack...


1 comment:

Nature Rambles said...

I've heard about all these creepy crawlies and the snakes in the bottles...Not for me...scary, scary!!!