In the past, insects were known as food for the poor in Cambodia. They did not have enough money for a nutritious meal, so they catch the insects around their places to turn them into a dish in their meal or to drink with their friends. Today, insect food is more and more popular, especially for foreign tourists who come to Cambodia to try it as a specialty.
In Southeast Asia, eating insects is not something new. But for Cambodian, insects are quite special in the famine that happened in the late 1970s. During this time, Cambodians had to live in forests, and it was insect habitat so that insects become the main food for people in this period. Since then the insect food began to become popular.
Food during famine
Insects are cheap but very rich in protein, amino acids and micronutrients, especially for children in Cambodia (97%) malnourished. Besides that, Khmer women believe that spiders are a good for beautifying, making hair thicker and healthier.
The most common types of insects that are eaten: crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, cockroaches, worms, stalks, ant eggs, cicadas, bee nymphs, etc. They are usually fried, grilled and soaked with different spices.
Visiting the night markets in Phnom Penh, tourists can see diversity of insects. Insect prices are also quite low so you can easily experience this kind of food: a jumping spider costs about 400 riel, the most expensive is stalk with about 2,000 riel for each one. According to experience, to be able to choose good insects, you should find the dry, yellow-colored ones that usually at the bottom. The top insects which are soft or have a darker color may be old goods from the previous day.
Thanks to huge insect demand, Cambodia has a big market that sells both live and processed insects, becoming an interesting destination for tourists on the way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. This unique market is located in Skun town of Kampong Cham province, about 70km from Phnom Penh, not only a unique market in Cambodia but also in the world. Since the market is located in the town of Skun, Cambodians call it "Skun" market, while foreign tourists are used to calling it "Insect market”.
Skun Market has an area about 5,000m² with stalls were arranged on both sides, besides selling insects, they also sell fruit or other food for tourists. The market is busy from around 5 am with more than 20 insect sellers. From Skun Market, "insect" goods are transferred all over Cambodia and exported to neighboring countries.
Most insects sold here such as: black spiders, crickets, coffee stalks, etc., are all cooked and displayed in large pots, trays or bags but there are also insects that still alive like: lobster spiders and lord termite for people who like soaking with alcohol. It is said by local people that spider soaked with alcohol is very effective in treating joint pain, back aches and pain, while termite alcohol brings a lot of energy to the men.
Coming to the insect market, when the car just stopped, tourists will be impressed by the attractive smell of fried, grilled, fried, etc. and thought that they can eat immediately! But the process from the thinking to the actions sometimes cannot be overcome. Looking at the big black spiders with 8 long legs full of fur, many tourists will be threatened right away. But when you overcome the scare, may be fall in love with this kind of food!
Cambodians often use green fluorescent lamps to shine through a plastic sheet to catch insect. The insects will rush towards the light, hit the plastic sheet and fall into the water tank below. Then people use cold ice to keep it fresh for selling. This is also a way to create jobs for many Cambodian farmers. After a harvest, farmers hunt spiders in soil holes and many other insects, then sell them to traders or sell it in the market.
Nowadays, Cambodia is famous not only for the consumption of domestic insects but also for export to neighboring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, China, etc. With the trend of eating insects as a trendy dish, some Cambodians have had the opportunity to "change life" by nurturing or hunting insects, meeting the great demands of the community and society.
Image source: Internet