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Cambodia Eats: Or the Time I Ate a Spider

Yes, that is me. Yes, that is me holding a deep fried spider. Yes, that is the face of uncertainty, despair, curiosity and peer pressure all rolled into one. Really, I shouldn’t be so apprehensive about a spider, I did drink cobra blood already. Plus, I was the girl in college who was summoned to kill spiders for other people. I had eaten ants before at summer camp during a survival clinic. So I guess spiders were a logical progression? Plus they came on a nice plate with a dipping sauce! When Victor and I heard that insects were part of the menu in Cambodia we were both curious. They are a good source of protein and when anything is fried and seasoned it can’t be half bad, right?

Lydia & Spider

So while we were in Phnom Penh we had dinner at Romdeng (74 Ph 174) and ordered some spiders. To be honest, they didn’t taste like much except for that fried taste you get whenever you deep fry something.

Platter of Doom

Just when I thought the worst was over, one of the chefs passed by our table and stopped right by me. He had a live spider crawling up his arm and held it towards my face. I shrieked so loud the whole restaurant turned to look and laugh at me. So much for keeping a cool demeanor.

While we traveled by bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, we stopped to have lunch and we walked by many road side stands selling insects of all kinds for snacks:

Alright, I admit it: I put the bugs up top to drag you in. We ate a lot of terrific food while in Cambodia and none of the rest of it involved insects of any sort. Before traveling to Cambodia, I had never been exposed to any Cambodian cuisine. If I had to give a very general description, I would say it has elements of both Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, its neighbors. There were plenty of vegetables and fresh salad dishes, so I was happy for the break from deep fried.

Rice Cake Veggies

Amok was on my list of Cambodian dishes to try. Amok is a curry dish, usually with fish but I saw many options on menus. The fish is steamed in banana leaves and the curry gets a mousse-like quality. I really enjoyed this:


On the salad side of things, we tried lap Khmer, a beef salad with loads of lime marinade:


Lok lak was another well-known dish I heard I should try. Cubed beef cooked in an oyster-like sauce — this dish is definitely for people who want some protein:

Lok Lak

We also sampled bahn chao, which was very similar to Vietnamese-style crepes I’ve had before:


Remember that lunch I mentioned having with Sophon on the way back from the floating village? Well, I told Sophon I wanted to go to a spot he and his friends lunch at. So we pulled up to a typical roadside restaurant and we let Sophon do the ordering. We got to try the Cambodian version of a sweet and sour soup:

Sweet and Sour Soup

Our waiter brought a plate with ice and raw vegetables as well as a vegetable pancake:


A delicious pork and pineapple dish:

Pork with Pineapple

In the back, this restaurant had some of the largest soup pots I have ever seen in my life.

Soup with Basil

In Phnom Penh we went to a fancy dinner at Malis (136 Norodom Blvd). We ordered a beef cooked in bamboo which was our favorite of the night:

Bamboo Beef

At many places, we were given small dishes with a fermented cabbage salad to start. It wasn’t anything like kimchi but I enjoyed it a lot:

Pickled Veggies

At Malis we also tried a deep fried fish dish that was way too salty for my taste:

Fried Fish

Before dinner we walked around the Phnom Penh Night Market. I was in foodie heaven watching everyone cooking:

Beer-wise, you have some options in Cambodia, but like most of Southeast Asia, the light pilsner beers are nothing worth seeking out when you go back home:

Kingdom Beer

Angkor Beer

Meat drying on the street:

Roadside Drying Meat

As we drove out of Siem Reap to go visit the floating village, we passed dozens of roadside stands selling kralan. I asked Sophon if we could pull over at one (many had large number signs in front). Sophon told me that many people have favorite stalls and stop on their way out of town for the bamboo stuffed with sticky rice. The kralan I bought for about $1 had sweet beans mixed in with the sticky rice as well as some coconut pieces and some palm sugar for sweetness. It was a great morning snack:

Where to eat:
Phnom Penh:
Malis (136 Norodom Blvd)
Romdeng (74 Ph 174)
For drinks: Foreign Correspodents’ Club (363 Sisowath Quay)
Best soursop ice cream I’ve had in Asia: Toto (75 Norodom Blvd)
Street 420 has many great spots.

Siem Reap:
Sugar Palm (Taphul Rd), had amok here.
Cocktails: Miss Wong (The Lane)

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Brucey #

    That all looks delicious! I especially want to try the beef in bamboo and the beef & lime salad!

    May 8, 2013
    • I could eat both of those right now! Thanks for reading.

      May 9, 2013
  2. Lydia, you deserve a round of applause for eating those spiders. I could probably do it but I’d have to be very drunk and there would have to be a lot of dipping sauce. I imagine they are not as vile to taste as they look?

    I’m hugely impressed by all the different foods. I love Indonesia but I have to be honest, I’m not mad about the food here. I find the diet quite repetitive and starch laden. I long for the freshness of foods that you describe here. If not for the culture, Cambodia’s food alone is worth a visit. I think it’s now made No.1 on my new bucket list!

    Great post Lydia and a feast for the eyes! Thank you. Lottie :D

    May 8, 2013
    • Honestly, the spiders really only tasted like the fried batter and the dipping sauce. So once I finally stopped whining and took a bite (I did have a drink before dinner), it wasn’t so bad. I only had one, Victor was much more keen on them.

      I often wondered why Indonesia ended up with the food it did when neighboring countries, that grow the same crops, utilize so many more fresh vegetables and herbs (basils, lemongrass etc.) If you think Cambodia is worth a visit for food, wait till I blog about Laos. I was really impressed and surprised by the cuisine there, also something I had never had before. As always Lottie, thanks for reading :)

      May 9, 2013
  3. Ah the traditional Khmer Cockroach Cluster! Wonderful with a sticky white to follow. I have noted these for my upcoming trip. We are booked at the FCC for dinner on th first night. Great post.

    May 8, 2013
    • Do take some photos! I never got around to trying spicy beef with ants, so I would love to hear about it. The FCC is a great place to pass several hours with several drinks overlooking the river. Enjoy your travels.

      May 9, 2013
      • Lydia, I have been to the FCC before and I enjoyed it. I can’t drink alcohol unfortunately but I shall be happy to drink a lot of coffee there. Spicy beef with ants sounds brilliant. Although I am more of a beef with spicy ants man, myself.

        May 9, 2013
  4. Yess Toto is so good. I still haven’t been to Romdeng but keep meaning to go and try the spiders! Come back to visit and I’ll take you to eat stir-fried spicy beef with ants, one of my favorite dishes :)

    May 8, 2013
    • The spicy beef with ants was on my list — so I’ll have to come back :) Hopefully, the summer between grad school years.

      May 9, 2013
  5. How did you find the spider’s stomach? I watched on TV a few months ago about some people trying to eat Cambodian-style fried spider. They enjoyed it until they came to the part when they chewed the stomach. I’m curious though. :) The only insect I’ve tried so far was only spicy grasshopper. And that’s nothing compared to spider I believe.

    May 9, 2013
    • Sorry to report I chewed very fast and was done with it, so no clue about the stomach. Victor seemed to eat them just fine too. Maybe we had a different type of spider?

      May 9, 2013
  6. I was just in Cambodia, and I found their cuisine amazing as well! Amok was one of my favourites, but I didn’t get around to trying any spiders!!

    May 9, 2013

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