Fried spider is a regional delicacy in Cambodia. In the Cambodian town of Skuon (Cheung Prey, Kampong Cham Province), the vending of fried spiders as a specialty snack is a popular attraction for tourists passing through this town. Spiders are also available elsewhere in Cambodia — in Phnom Penh for instance — but Skuon, a market town on the highway 75 kilometres (47 mi) from the capital, is the centre of their popularity. The spiders are bred in holes in the ground in villages north of Skuon, or foraged for in nearby forestland, and fried in oil. It is not clear how this practice started, but some have suggested that the population might have started eating spiders out of desperation during the years of Khmer Rouge rule, when food was in short supply.
The spiders are a species of tarantula called "a-ping" in Khmer, and are about the size of a human palm. The snacks cost about 300 riel each in 2002, or about US$ 0.08. One travel book identifies them as Haplopelma albostriatum, also known as the Thai zebra tarantula, and notes that the same species' common name has been the "edible spider" for more than a hundred years. The popularity of the dish is, however, a recent phenomenon, starting perhaps as late as the 1990s. The same book details a recipe: the spiders are tossed in a mixture of MSG, sugar, and salt; crushed garlic is fried in oil until fragrant, then the spiders are added and fried alongside the garlic until "the legs are almost completely stiff, by which time the contents of the abdomen are not so runny."
The taste has been described as bland, "rather like a cross between chicken and cod", with a contrast in texture from a crispy exterior to a soft centre. The legs contain little flesh, while the head and body have "a delicate white meat inside". There are certainly those who might not enjoy the abdomen, however, as it contains a brown paste consisting of organs, possibly eggs, and excrement. Some call it a delicacy while others recommend not eating it.
Notes and references
- Rigby, Rhymer (2002). "Tuck into a Tarantula". Sunday Telegraph. URL retrieved 11 September 2006.
- Ray, Nick (2002), Lonely Planet Cambodia, Lonely Planet Publications, ISBN 1-74059-111-9. p. 308.
- ABC News Online (2 September 2002). "Spiderwomen serve up Cambodia's creepy caviar. URL retrieved 11 September 2006.
- Freeman, Michael (2004), Cambodia, Reaktion Books, ISBN 1-86189-186-5. p. 33.
- Freeman p. 34.