One night for dinner, I ate 1.5 tarantulas during dinner and did not vomit. My gag reflex sat on the sidelines and my stomach welcomed the grub.
On our last night in Siem Reap, we dined at the four-month-old Bugs Cafe, featuring “insect tapas.” Cambodian cuisine makes use of insects, amphibians (frogs legs), and reptiles (snakes on a skewer on a street cart).
According to a 2013 U.N. report, 2 billion people eat bugs. The same report says that harvesting bugs takes less feed and emits less greenhouse gases than raising livestock.
While I understood the logic for eating bugs (totally normal, totally sustainable), it didn’t dissolve the subjective “I just damn well don’t want to eat bugs” feeling. It took Kiwi 30 minutes of convincing me to go. with the winning argument being that it would make a great blog post. It’s a very effective way to convince an out-of-work editor to do something. Do it for the web traffic.
When we arrived at Bugs Cafe, the French-accented proprietor welcomed us and introduced the menu. The proprietor pointed us towards a $14 platter for two, recommending the tarantula donut and admitting he wasn’t a fan of grilled marinated waterbug. We took his recs. I gulped down some wine.
The cafe decor has a sense of humor: movie posters of bug-related horror or sci-fi flicks decorated the walls. The music was a mix of jazzy tunes with funny covers, like this slow jam version of Duck Tales:
And a bluegrass version of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”:
As for the platter, it included:
Spring rolls with ants
The most normal item out of the platter. Tasty spring rolls, that just happened to have sizeable ants inside.
Tarantula donut with mayo and mango chutney
This scared me. Kiwi cut it down the middle; I closed my eyes to take a bite. Tarantula tasted a bit smoky, and crunched a bit in the same way you might accidentally crunch on an unpeeled shrimp. Better than I expected, actually quite good; everything is better when it’s fried and slathered with mayo.
Pastry (feuilleté) with ant pesto
Ants don’t scare me. Pesto is good. This posed no challenge.
Grilled skewer with two grasshoppers, a tarantula and a waterbug
All the insects were marinated. We each took a grasshopper and one big bug: I took the tarantula and Kiwi took the waterbug. The grasshoppers tasted like marinade and crunched like shrimp shells in the mouth.
When it came to the tarantula, I kept thinking I was eating Buzz’s pet and couldn’t determine if this was a good or bad thing. I put the tarantula in my mouth and started to chew: similar to the donut but without the safety net of the fried outer layer. Still smoky, with a little paste that came out with chewing, kind of like experiencing mealy overcooked shrimp.
It was fine, not revolting by any means. I plan on using “I ate tarantulas” if I ever have to play “Two Truths and a Lie.”
Kiwi liked the waterbug, saying it was crunchy and chewy at the same time. It was delicious with a little chutney on it, he said.
Stirfry with silkworms, crickets, green pepper and a lemongrass sauce
The silkworms took on the sauce a fair bit, so they were tasty to bite into. The crickets felt like they were just crunchy parts of the solid stirfry.
The bug platter pleasantly surprised us, and we told the proprietor so. It was a fun experience, and many concur: It’s rated the #4 restaurant out of 445 on TripAdvisor right now.