As our tour bus with Overseas Adventures Travels (OAT) made it’s way toward Siem Reap, we stopped at a small village in the Kampong Cham Province to visit a widowed mother of four who supplements her income by capturing and selling “Tarantulas.” Fried spider is a regional delicacy in this region. There is even two sculptures of tarantulas erected on the center divider in town that emphasizes this fact.
Though generally nocturnal, tarantulas can be found during the day. She showed us where the spiders are bred in holes in the ground behind her home. Once caught, she removes the venomous fangs from the furry creature, to prevent being bitten.
She then walked us toward the front of her house and placed the tarantulas she had caught on a branch of leaves that allowed us to hold the creatures at a distance. Having a mind of their own, they began to crawl on my hand, arms, shoulder and circled around to my back. She then marinated them in sugar, salt, crushed garlic and whiskey and demonstrated how to fry them in oil until fragrant. Some of us took turns frying one until they were completely stiff. The taste has been described as a cross between chicken and cod. It has a crispy exterior to a soft center.
As you travel around the world, you end up trying a lot of cuisine you wouldn’t dare eat at home. However, as adventurous as I am, I never thought in a hundred years I would be eating a spider today. After all, for many of us the Tarantula represents the stuff of nightmares and horror movies.
Cambodians have long hunted spiders for food and medicine but it wasn’t until the severe food shortages during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in the mid-1970s that people turned to them as a food staple.
Tarantulas, have been rumored to be used as a traditional cure for backaches and breathing disorders. They are also a good source of protein, folic acid and zinc, making them an excellent supplement to one’s diet. They are also known to make women more beautiful as our local guide, Jack told us. He reinforced his claim by rhetorically asking, “Isn’t she beautiful?” Jack is single and is looking for a woman but said “She’s too pretty for me.”
The merchant trade in tarantulas got a big boost from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who captured and cooked them in an episode of Gordon’s Great Escape in 2011.
Postscript: Actress Angelina Jolie cooked and ate tarantulas with her kids (see last photo) during an interview with the BBC to promote her movie filmed in Cambodia last year called "First They Killed My Father" about the genocide of the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.