Siem Reap, Cambodia – Eating Bugs

[ 0 ] July 21, 2012 |

Dusk was rapidly approaching on our last night in Siem Reap and consequently our last night with Sokhom as well. On the drive back from Kompong Pluk an excited Sokhom announced that he had a surprise for us. He wanted to take us to his village to show us the Hammock Bar that he and his family run. JB and I accepted his invitation with enthusiasm as we sped toward his village which was located in between Russei Luk and Phnom Krom just south of Siem Reap.

We arrived at Sokhom’s Hammock Bar and were made right at home starting with family introductions, a grand tour of the facility, our very own hammock, and a cold drink. His oldest son who was just about to turn 17 even came out to hang with us for a few minutes. He told us he wanted to study English in college and was very excited to get to talk to native English speakers.

Pat Relaxing at Sokhom’s Hammock Bar

JB Finding His Hammock Grove

The Kitchen

Just as JB and I were about to finish our drinks, thank Sokhom for his warm hospitality and start making our way back to our hotel, Sokhom giddily sits this down in front of us >

The Feast

Sokhom had prepared us a Cambodian feast full of fried eel, frog, crickets, and water beetles.

Pregnant Frog!

Platter of Bugs du Jour

He then went on to explain that his wife had spent the past two days trying to find the “cleanest” crickets, beetles, eel, and frog that she could find. That is, ones that have been caught from locations where the water is cleanest. Picking my jaw from off my shoes, JB and I took a deep gulp knowing that it would be an insult not to enthusiastically partake at this point. Fear and trepidation aside, we put our game faces on as we received our bug eating tutorial from Sokhom’s oldest son.

We started with the eel, just pop it in. No problem, a bit chewy and fishy, but no problem.  Next up, frog. It was at this time that Sokhom spiritedly interjected that we were extremely fortunate and lucky – the frog they had prepared us was pregnant, hooray! Frog eggs for everyone! Having had frog before, I was least leery about this culinary delight. Just like I remembered it, chicken. It really, really does taste just like dark meat chicken.

Now for the real test of manhood, the insects. Cricket was up first. Sokhom’s son showed us how to start by pulling off one of the legs while using the other leg like a handle. Grabbing the remaining leg you first dip it into some garlic and pepper mix, then bite down on the body as you pull the leg handle off, and finally crunch away. JB was up first.

Removing the Leg

Down the Hatch

Captain Crunch

Yummy Close-up

No dry heaving, no lost lunch. Ok, I can do this. Looks like I’m next.

Removing the Leg

Jiminy is Ready to Go!

Crunch Time

Crunch Time Close-up

Yes! I’m a man! Woo Hoo, I just ate bugs! Ok, so it’s not all that bad and the crickets tasted like extra burnt fried batter. In fact, I probably tasted the garlic pepper mix (which I gave my cricket an extra healthy dipping in) more than anything else. Wanting to impress, I went in for seconds, and thirds. Hey – look at me, I’m Bear Grylls. Having got the cricket thing down, why not up the ante a little bit and try a water beetle.

Water Beetle Down the Hatch

Famous last words. I crunched through the shell – no problem. Then GUSH! It tasted like a rotten sulphurous mothball had just exploded in my mouth. I doubled over as I ran to the railing. Heave hoe, and back into the lotus pond from whence it came. I guzzled what ever I could get my hands on trying to replace the taste, but that didn’t last long either. Back to the rail.

I apologized to Sokhom profusely as I hung my head in shame. Couldn’t just leave good enough alone could you, I told myself. I urged Sokhom to please finish the rest, trying to make sure that neither our uneaten food nor the time and energy spent preparing it go to waste. It was around this time that Sokhom then informed us that he actually doesn’t care for these types of Cambodian specialties. WHAT? I don’t understand.  Was he just messing around with us or what?  Sokhom nor his son seemed to be taken aback all that much, but it was clearly evident that this culinary adventure was over. It was getting late and Sokhom insisted that he drive us back to the hotel.

Our “Finished” Cambodian Feast

Just the three of us again, Sokhom explained a bit more on the car ride home. He told us that during the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 70’s, the regime systematically forced most of the citizenry from urban centers into forced labor throughout the countryside. However, while the increased agrarian workforce lead to higher agricultural output, most of this output was sold as export by the Khmer Rouge regime. The regime used the profits to further finance their effort to remain in power by buying additional arms and weaponry. As a result, most Cambodians lived on the brink of starvation during this time. And by 1979, 1/5th of the Cambodian population ultimately died from starvation or genocide.

Without conventional food available, many people turned to any food source available – namely foraging for insects or anything else they could get their hands on. After nearly a decade of following these eating habits (tastebuds adjusting accordingly), it’s all too logical why insects and the like remain apart of the mainstream culinary taste buds of the country even today.

Sokhom told us that he has no problem with eating insects conceptually; obviously most of his friends, family and other Cambodians in general love the stuff. But after decades of being forced to eat this stuff to simply stay alive, he said that avoiding it all together helps to numb the all to recent memories that he would much rather forget.

On that somber note, we pulled into the driveway of our hotel. A few handshakes, a quick hug, and an exchange of appreciation later, Sokhom was gone. Certainly not the feeling we planned to end on, but nonetheless it was a real one.

While eating bugs might be a novelty for most travelers, it carried with it a different reality and message for us this day. A reminder of how far Cambodia has come from it’s all too recent past. A huge thanks goes out to Sokhom for showing us a brief glimpse into the Cambodia of both today and yesterday. It was an unexpected and once in a lifetime experience I will certainly be telling my grandchildren about someday.

Thank You Sokhom



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Category: Blog, Cambodia, Destinations, Featured Posts, Pat's Blog

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