Last Chance for a Cambodian Delicacy: Crickets

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There was one thing I knew I had to try before leaving Cambodia: roasted crickets. Notice that I didn’t say I wanted to, but that I had to. It my last full day in Cambodia and I was on a bus headed to Phnom Penh, when we pulled into a rest stop and I spotted a vendor with a huge pile of the ugly things. It was now or never.

I just couldn’t leave the country without being able to say I’d tried them, so I plunked down 3,000 riel and the cricket lady dug me out a heaping cup full and dumped them in a plastic bag. Right next to the crickets was a towering, oily pile of black spiders — but they looked truly disgusting. The crickets were only mostly disgusting.

I waited until I got back in the bus and had a bottle of iced tea opened and ready before I tried one. The Khmer man in the seat across from me had a bag and was chewing through them like they were candy. He’d tear the legs off, scarf the body and head down, then wipe his hands on the bus window’s curtain. He finished the entire bag in less than ten minutes. I was still staring sceptically at my bag.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I popped one in my mouth and began to chew.

The crickets were pretty large –over an inch in length– and were lightly covered in some kind of oil. Before I could talk myself out of it, I popped one in my mouth and began to chew. Thankfully, the experience was rather anti-climatic. I was dreading some kind of bursting gooey center, but they were dry and dessicated all the way through. There wasn’t much flavor at first, but the more I chewed the more it tasted like, well… dirt, really.

I expected them to be sprinkled lightly with salt or pepper or some exotic insect-related spice, but I guess these were for purists

Every movement of my jaw reminded me “Yup, I’m eating an insect”.

The more I chewed, the more the shell crunched and split into even smaller pieces — coating my tongue in a fine glaze of insect chitin and sticking between my teeth. Every movement of my jaw reminded me “Yup, I’m eating an insect”.

The dirty, dried mushroom flavor got stronger and I finally choked it down, following it with a huge swig of iced tea. I wasn’t trying to wash the taste out of my mouth, so much as wash the entire memory from my mind.

I tried to give the rest of them away, but the guy across the aisle was apparently full now and the young man behind him gave me a “you gotta be kidding” look. I sat the bag on the bus seat and at some point, it fell to the floor and disappeared. I didn’t search for it.

Looking back, I guess it must be an acquired taste — one I hope to never acquire. The taste isn’t awful, but it certainly isn’t good and the prospect of picking insect bits from your teeth for an hour is extremely unappealing.

This isn’t a meal — it’s a dare.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Globetrooper Todd June 6, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Nice work Wes; taking one for the team. I’m not sure which team, but hey, I can empathise. I’m off to Montreal on Wednesday, so a little easier on the stomach than Cambodia, but looking forward to the culinary challenges of South America and India later this year. Hope all is going well there otherwise. Loving the posts.
.-= Globetrooper Todd´s last blog ..Travel on Equity: the key to endless global travel =-.

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Liz June 6, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Brave man!

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Mike June 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Awesome. There’s no anybody should pass up an experience like that.

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Duffy June 6, 2010 at 9:15 pm

As I read this, I’m having french toast with a side of bacon. Thanks for ruining that for me.

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wes June 7, 2010 at 7:11 am

Just doing my part!

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TR June 6, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Going to try desert shrimp in Africa? Locusts fried in chili powder . . . yum.

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Erica June 7, 2010 at 2:18 am

*shudder*

Mad props for doing it – however I think you officially scared me away from trying them.
.-= Erica´s last blog ..Workin’ Hard for the Money =-.

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John June 7, 2010 at 7:44 am

Hey, if you start eating weird crap whilst wearing an orange shirt, they might think you’re Andrew Zimmern scouting for a new show to shoot and start giving you all sort of freebies. ;)

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wes June 7, 2010 at 3:18 pm

ha! but just think what the freebies will be like ;)

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Scott June 7, 2010 at 8:54 am

We looked at those crickets and spiders many times on the bus rides and said no. It’s good to know that they tasted how I thought they would! Kudos to you for actually giving them a go. The spiders look freakish, don’t they? I couldn’t bring myself to even go near them.
.-= Scott´s last blog ..Due to injury, we didn’t really see Vientiane, Laos =-.

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wes June 8, 2010 at 10:58 am

That’s my job: I do stupid stuff so you don’t have to ;)

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Brendan June 9, 2010 at 12:12 am

Sounds nicer than durian to me. I tried that for the first time yesterday and I can’t believe anyone eats the stuff. It’s like chewing on a dirty wet sock.

Spiders next time, yeah?
.-= Brendan´s last blog ..My first visit to a Malaysian barbers. =-.

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wes June 9, 2010 at 7:03 am

haha. Yup, that sounds like durian alright…

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Sultana June 9, 2010 at 4:32 am

Wow. It really was a dare! They do look delicious though on that plate. I’m the kind of person who would eat without question if I wasn’t told what exactly was on that plate.

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Jen June 9, 2010 at 7:35 am

In Colombia they eat ants. A delicacy apparently. When I went I never got the opportunity to eat any but a while after I got back, a friend of mine had a relative of hers bring some (from who know where). I took one look and got so itchy and skeeved out that I started gagging. Crickets? Shiver. I’ll have to put on the big girl pants before getting on the plane in October I guess
.-= Jen´s last blog ..Weekend Update: 6/5/2010 =-.

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Brad June 11, 2010 at 2:52 am

I had *just* gotten over food poisoning, when we stopped at the only spot that clearly had crickets for sale in Cambodia. I really wanted to try them, but I nearly missed Angkor Wat due to the food poisoning and didn’t want to press my luck.

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karen October 22, 2010 at 9:12 am

It was my dare to overcome my LONG standing bug phobia (at least 100% kill it …and eat it). I bought a bag of fried grasshoppers myself in Siem Reap, by a popular vendor (i was people watching!). I actually really enjoyed it. It was moist, crunchy and tasted like fried chicken (but better). I believe you got a bad one. :(

Brendan: Durian isn’t bad. Just in sweets, it’s good! (You get used to it if you’re in Singapore!)

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wes October 22, 2010 at 11:23 am

It *does* sound like I got a bad batch. They were nothing like you described — all dry and musty-tasting. Hmmmm… not sure I want to try again ;)

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