Cambodia Cuisine: What It's Like To Cook And Eat A Tarantula
Style Magazine Newswire | 2/1/2017, 1:45 p.m.
(CNN) -- The giant tarantula dangling from my mouth might be dead, but it's still terrifying.
Objectively, it doesn't taste too bad -- similar in style to crab.
However given that scientists say flavor is influenced significantly by the way food appears and smells, it should come as little surprise my mind's made up the moment I look at this hairy beast.
It matters not that I fried the tarantula myself in traditional style under the guidance of an expert spider cook in the northwestern Cambodian town of Siem Reap.
The scent and taste of garlic just can't overcome the nightmarish appearance of my snack.
A cuisine born out of necessity
In some parts of Asia cooked insects are sold in busy tourist areas to travelers who want a quirky photo op -- they pose for a pic eating a beetle or grasshopper and the image becomes an Instagrammable souvenir of their adventure.
But often the majority of locals don't actually like to eat those insects -- it's just a ruse to make money from tourists.
That's not the case with tarantulas in Cambodia.
These arachnids are such a delicacy that large ones can sell for up to $1 each, a hefty sum in a country where minimum wage is about $6 a day.
Cooking teacher Ouch Ratana makes a living selling fried tarantulas on the streets of Siem Reap.
He assures me, via English-speaking guide Yin Lucky, that Cambodians really do love to eat spiders.
"Some days I can sell dozens," he says as he opens up a plastic bag stacked to the brim with tarantulas.
"They are delicious -- a perfect snack with some cold beer or rice wine. But they are very expensive so people only eat them for a special event, maybe a birthday party and everyone has one or two."
Where some of the world's delicacies, like caviar or truffles, are almost exclusively the food of the rich and powerful, tarantulas entered the Cambodian diet out of necessity.
Yin explains that poverty and hunger became so dire during the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge, the radical communist movement that ruled Cambodia in the 1970s, that people ate any living creature they could catch.
Some of these creatures actually tasted good -- like tarantulas, scorpions, silkworms and grasshoppers -- so they remained part of Cambodian diets after the famine ended.
How to cook a hairy spider
The tarantulas Ouch sells mostly come from Kampong Cham, a province more than 200 kilometers southeast of Siem Reap, where men spend their days hunting the landscape for tarantula nests.
Once they find one they kill the spiders inside by stabbing into the burrow with a stick or filling it with hot water.
Most of these spiders end up in a wok -- just like the one Ouch presides over.
Visitors to Ouch's cooking school also learn to cook silkworms and grasshoppers.
Classes can be booked through Backstreet Academy, a travel company that connects tourists with local hosts in 11 Asian countries, allowing travelers to have unique experiences.