Did you know that the consumption of insects for food has a name, entomophagy? I didn’t, until I visited Cambodia. There, perhaps more than anywhere else, the people actively serve and eat insects. There is a dark reason behind this. Under the Khmer Rouge, much of the population was forced into poverty; and people resorted to feeding on anything they could find.
Today Cambodians continue to eat and enjoy insects. They are found on street food stalls, in markets and even on restaurant menus all around the country. To a Westerner these seem strange, even off-putting, delicacies. But, to adapt a well-known saying, when in Phnom Penh …
Thus on our first evening in the city we found ourselves embarking on a street food tour with our friendly guide Van. After enjoying a drink by the Mekong as the sun set, we were ready to get a bit more adventurous!
We took a tuk-tuk to an area where many stalls were clustered, all selling a variety of these Cambodian delicacies. Van picked out one where, she assured us, it would be safe for us to sample some. She steered us away from the giant water bugs and cockroaches (she needn’t have bothered!) But she encouraged us to try some small, deep-fried crickets (surprisingly tasty, or at least not bad!); tiny fish; small frogs to be crunched on bones and all; and silkworm cocoons. The latter were softer and less unpleasant than ones we’d sampled last year in North Korea, but not by much. I left the stall feeling glad I’d tried (almost) everything but in no hurry to repeat the experience!
The Russian Market
Next we headed to the Russian Market, which gets its name simply because it was in the past the favoured shopping place of Soviet ex-pats, here to help Cambodia rebuild after the war; also, according to Van, to teach the people that there was a better form of Communism than Mao’s.
Here we strolled around, sampling some of the food Van suggested (jack fruit, rambutans, pork scratchings, a churro-like bun) and declining others. I decided against trying one of the most popular delicacies, a duck embryo in its egg, cooked in coconut water. But Chris declared himself happy to have a go (when I asked him afterwards he simply said, ‘it’s just an egg’) so we sat down while he and Van had these. She also ordered beef and pork skewers and green papaya salads, all of which were excellent.
Time for seafood
By now I was tired (I’d had just two hours sleep on our flight over) and full, but we had one more stop to make, at a roadside seafood stall. Disappointingly they had sold out of squid, which was really the only thing I fancied, but I shared a dish of prawns in curry sauce with Chris and we all shared some steamed crabs. Although, and perhaps this was down to my tiredness, I didn’t feel the admittedly tasty meat was worth the hassle of extracting it.
Van tried to press more food on us but by now we had had enough to eat and were both tired. We took the short drive back to our hotel, after a fascinating introduction to this new country and its sometimes surprising cuisine. Yet another of the many Foods of the world to be discovered when we travel!
I visited Cambodia in 2020