Whether perusing a local village market or taking a stroll down Phnom Penh’s riverfront promenade, anybody travelling through Cambodia is bound to come across street-side vendors frying up a spice-infused batch of crickets, scorpions, cockroaches, worms or tarantulas.
Snacking on bugs is not unique to Cambodia by any means. But whereas insect vendors in other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand target brave tourists or locals with very specific appetites, eating insects is a much more widespread phenomenon amongst the Khmer.
Why Insects Are So Popular in Cambodia
One of the main driving factors for Cambodia’s love of insect-eating today is attributed to the late 1970s, when the brutal Khmer Rouge caused a mass exodus of people from the cities and into the relative safety of the countryside. Coupled with the seizure of private farms, widespread famine forced locals to seek sustenance from the least likely of places.
And as luck would have it, forests were abundant with edible critters. This cheap and plentiful food source was also jam-packed with protein, vitamins, omega fatty acids, essential amino acids and other nutrients.
As Cambodia started to recover and people returned to the cities during the post-war years, insect consumption never fell to the wayside. Rather, what was once a matter of life and death evolved into the ubiquitous, everyday street-side snack now seemingly found on every street corner.
What to Expect when Eating Insects
Though foreigners may associate Cambodia’s bug-eating habit with a certain gross factor, most readers have undoubtedly tried crustaceans before. And insects, arachnids (spiders and scorpions) and shellfish are all classified under the phylum of arthropods. This means prawns have more in common with cockroaches than you think (they are branded as cockroaches of the sea, after all).
Unsurprisingly, one can expect a crunch when biting into these creepy-crawlies with hard exoskeletons and deep-fried in oil. The interior is a mixture of meaty and gooey, not too unlike their aquatic crab and prawn cousins. Needless to say, a toothpick is definitely recommended after sampling one of these Khmer specialities.
Other notable critter bites include giant water bugs, snakes, ant eggs and maggots – are you brave enough to try any of these?
Satiate Your Critter Curiosity with Heritage Line
Heritage Line operates two boutique luxury vessels, Jayavarman and The Jahan, which discover Vietnam and Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage while cruising the mighty Mekong River. We offer unparalleled fine dining aboard with the best of local Khmer and Vietnamese flavours as well as international favourites. But fret not – none of our mouth-watering recipes call for bugs.
On the other hand, guests will undoubtedly happen upon freshly fried insects during our guided on-shore excursions to Cambodia’s rustic villages. Or, while we’re docked in Phnom Penh, take a stroll along the nearby Sisowath Quay riverfront and sample some crispy critters on your own!