For most westerners, bugs are not even remotely part of the food chain. As children, our curiosity leads us to explore our environment freely and fearlessly. It’s only when our parents come rushing over—taking away the worm, frog, snail, or spider we are just about to put in our mouths, and forbidding tasting, smelling, squishing, petting, or licking—that we are so conditioned. The critter is then taken out of our hands and we are quickly ushered to the bathroom for hand washing, as we are told that we don’t eat bugs and other creepy crawlies.
In many parts of the world, insects and other critters are freely eaten, and even considered delicacies. For many people, it’s as normal as eating crabs, mussels, and shrimp. Cambodia is such a country and a few days ago, I bravely ventured to eat at The Bugs Café, where bugs are comfortably introduced to westerners and integrally feature throughout the menu.
The Bugs Café is a unique restaurant in Siem Reap, in that it specializes in ‘insect tapas,’ fusing Khmer and French cuisine in a non-threatening way. Its mission: for guests to experience a safe gastronomical discovery of this typical Cambodian favorite, through the savoring of sophisticated and appealing tapas. So far so good.
Though I consider myself a vegetarian, I felt curious about something so very bizarre to me; but, I also felt nervous. I don’t consider myself the kind of person who can easily dig in to a bag full of fried crickets. So to understand more about insects and why it’s okay to eat them, I invited ABOUTAsia Travel’s Adventure Expert, world renowned Belgian entomologist, cartographer and nature photographer, Stephane de Greef, to accompany me.
Since Stephan graduated with a M.Sc. degree in bio-engineering in 2000, he has become the ‘Indiana Jones of Cambodia’—so named by Susan Hack of Conde Nast Traveler/Bloomberg—as well as a tour guide, and he does an amazing job in sharing the Cambodia he knows and loves.
I was feeling antsy (pun intended!) but we received a warm welcome from Bugs Café owner, Davy Blouzard, who recommended we begin with the popular mixed appetizer platter. I could feel the anxiety quickly rising as the food arrived—my eyes grew bigger, my palms grew sweaty, and at one point I thought I might not be so adventurous after all. I was beginning to ‘bug out!’ (no more puns, I promise)
I had come prepared to ask many questions; I figured that would be a good tactic to distract me from the obvious “OMG-I’m-really-going-to-eat-bugs!” refrain playing in my head.
I was relieved to see that Stephane was prepared too. As soon as our appetizer was served, he whipped out his laptop and showed me pictures of the red ants that were in our spring rolls, as well as the tarantula and scorpion that made up the skewer on the plate.
I mustered up the courage, cut the spring roll in half, tried not to look too closely at the ants that were dangling out of the edge, dunked it into the Mediterranean sauce, and ATE it.
Silence. Then, a taste of vinegar followed by a raised brow, and a swallow. I did it! It was actually better than I thought it would be. Now, the question of whether eating insects is technically the same as eating meat (I am a vegetarian after all) might have to be discussed in a follow-up blog, however; for curious minds the Bugs Café brings up such entertaining questions.
All insects we tasted have a particular consistency, texture, and taste. Crickets, scorpions, grasshoppers, ants, bees, water bugs, silkworms and spiders, are actually all edible.
As we chatted not only did I learn more about red ants and other insects, but also that the fear of eating insects and bugs stems from cultural upbringing and perspective. In fact, eating bugs and insects has a low environmental impact, and they are a fantastic protein source. They can even be a solution to feeding the planet in the future!
Will insects become part of my staple repetoire of salads, pizza and spring rolls? Probably not, but a visit to Bugs Cafe is a fun, educational and memorable experience. All self-respecting foodies should try it!