Forget Deep-Fried Chicken, in Cambodia People Eat Deep-Fried Tarantula

A bowl of deep fried tarantulas | © Marissa Carruthers
A bowl of deep fried tarantulas | © Marissa Carruthers
Photo of Marissa
27 February 2017

If the sight of spiders makes you squeal, then a stop off at the Cambodian town of Skuon should be avoided; it is, after all, known as a tarantula stomping ground.

A child handles a live tarantula at a stall in Skuon | © Marissa Carruthers

Deep-fried tarantula is considered a delicacy in Cambodia and can commonly be found being sold, usually for about US$ 1 per spider, from food carts that dot the streets.

Often on display alongside fried crickets, scorpions and grubs, the snacks are popular with terrified tourists grappling to overcome their fears.

During her recent visit to Cambodia to launch First They Killed My Father, the Netflix film based on the autobiographical book of the same name, Angelina Jolie was spotted tucking into a tarantula, which she described as “really tasty”.

Often deep-fried with chilli and garlic, tarantulas’ legs are crispy and super spicy. The body, however, is another story altogether, with bland white flesh hidden under the hard shell. If you’re lucky, a load of eggs will come oozing out when you bite, as an estimated 50 percent of them are pregnant females.

While tarantulas can be found in the deep jungles of Cambodia, the market town of Skuon, which sits on Highway 75, about 47 miles from Phnom Penh towards Siem Reap, is a breeding ground for the arachnids.

In nearby forests, children and adults set about tarantula hunting, searching for the small holes in the ground that are home to the spiders. They spend a few minutes poking a stick down the hole and making chirping sounds to bring them out of hiding. As soon as a spider shows its face, it is caught bare-handed.

Skoun is the centre of Cambodia's tarantula business | © Marissa Carruthers

Once the haul is taken back to the village, the spiders are defanged, again by hand, before being tossed into a pan of oil and turned into dinner.

Although, the origins of eating tarantula are unknown, it is believed that eating spiders and other insects stemmed from the time of the Khmer Rouge, when the country was starved under the strict regime.

In Phnom Penh, the NGO, Friends International, runs a restaurant, Romdeng, which offers training to impoverished youngsters; it serves the speciality on its menu with lime and Kampot pepper sauce, with waiters willing to bring a live one to your table.

There are plenty of places to come face-to-face with a scary hairy spider, but can you stomach sinking your teeth into it?

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