WANDERLUST| From swarm to farm to night market staple

WHENEVER I visit ASEAN countries, I always make it a point to look for something “exotic” to eat – something that you wouldn’t want your mother to know when you get back home.

DEPART fried crickets, anyone?

DEPART fried crickets, anyone?

Insects, incidentally, whether the six or eight legged kind (depends on your preference), always top the list. Occasionally, there are even some reptilian or amphibian delights on the side.

During my recent visit to Siem Reap for the Cambodia Travel Mart, I had the opportunity to test once again my culinary limits for local critters at the night market. The market is a favorite spot to look for exotic chows as you’d easily see vendors luring tourists to sample their goods.

NOPE, they're not roaches but water beetles.

NOPE, they’re not roaches but water beetles.

One favorite is the more palate-friendly are those deep fried crickets. Close your eyes and you’d think your just nibbling sauteed shrimps. Promise.

While crickets are considered a plague in most parts of the world, in Cambodia, the millions of crickets that swarm its plains every year are a cause for celebration.

WORM larvae on skewers

WORM larvae on skewers

“Crickets help provide extra income for many farmers, like me, who ended up as vendors at the market by night” said 32 year ambulant vendor old Keo Sareurn.

Keo, who live in a farm 10 kilometers away from Siem Reap, has been selling deep fried crickets, along with deep-fried tarantula, frogs, winged termites, scorpions, worm pupa and larvae, juvenile snakes, snails, and black water beetle that disturbingly looks like cockroach, for almost 10 years now.

MUNCHING a protein-packed snack

MUNCHING a protein-packed snack

According to Keo, the kingdom’s watery soil is conducive for the insects to flourish. But these days, these insects are often farmed than gathered from the wild.

At the night market, they are serve them up deep-fried in vegetable oil, then sprayed with soy sauce to add some arthropodic zing.

CRUNCHY salad toppings

CRUNCHY salad toppings

I asked another vendor if she eats them. She said Cambodians have been eating crickets and other insects for centuries. However, she said that it only became a lucrative business in recent years when modern technology enabled them to farm and catch insects in commercial quantities and when curious tourists started to arrive in, er, swarms.

In Cambodia, locals also believe that eating crickets regularly improves health and longevity. Insects are generally high in nutritional value and is known to have higher protein content compared to meat or fish. They’re also rich in fiber and healthy micronutrients, such as copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. Some research even suggests they help lower cholesterol.

THESE farmed snakes actually taste like chicken

THESE farmed snakes actually taste like chicken

Business-wise, vendors, like Keo, earn around 100,000 Cambodian riel (around US$20) a day by selling these exotic Khmer fares. Each insect sells for US$1 a piece but they also charge US$0.50 cents for those who just want to a have an Instagrammabl photo with the insects.

Now, that’s one crunchy trade.

Posted in Lifestyle