Tuesday, 16 April 2013

... Indochina: Incy Wincy Spider

The tiny town of Skuon between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap might not seem like much at first glance. In fact most people merely hop off and back on their bus merely to use the washroom, without even realizing just what lurks around the corner.

Seeing as how I had a platter shoved in my face with the words "Tastes like chicken, sister. You try?" proudly bellowed, I'm convinced, at me I couldn't really avoid what I had just had presented to me.

The locals of Skuon like to eat a local delicacy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Identified by some sources as Haplopelma albostriatum, this arachnophobic has absolutely no problem in recognizing when there's a spider in front of her. Make that a platter piled high with them. The spiders, a species of tarantula locally known as "a-ping", were once about the size of your palm which was undoubtedly their shortcoming. That is before they were tossed into a sugar, salt & good ol' MSG (per literature) mixture and deep fried in fresh garlic infused oil. This is apparently an "exotic culinary delight". Fried spider anyone? I wonder if Gordon Ramsey ever makes these in his kitchen. I'm thinking probably not.

With online statements such as "fried until the legs are almost completely stiff, by which time the contents of the abdomen are not so runny", you would be forgiven for thinking "yeah but no" even if you don't mind these 8-legged furry creatures when they're alive n' kicking. The origins of this interesting cuisine comes from necessity. During Khmer Rouge rule these spiders played a major role in survival for the locals from starvation when food was scarce.

Hunted in holes in the hills to the north, these spiders put up a fight literally to the death and painful bites are not uncommon. This tarantula is known to have venom that is more potent than that of many tarantula species. However, this didn't stop one young seller wearing a live one like it was a brooch. May be she wanted to keep that one as a pet? The locals can earn up to half of their livelihood thanks to spiders and other deep-fried critters. I can't say I have ever seen an arrangement of crickets, larger grasshopper-locust type bugs, beetle-cockroach creepy crawlies nor stuffed frogs on silver platters, that is until today. And they sell like hot cakes! Skuon is officially nicknamed "Spiderville" with good reason! There also appears to be a penchant for pregnant spider females laden with eggs.

Still interested? Well apparently the abdomen appears to be filled with a rather vile looking brown sludge. Online debates range from organs, eggs and poo. Yummy!

As the bus continued the remainder of its 7.5hr journey to Siem Reap, I couldn't help but check around my seat for any stowaway 8-legged Asylum seekers.......

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