Arriving at lunchtime in Siem Reap, Cambodia we were hungry, so I did the usual thing and checked Trip Advisor for well-reviewed places near to our hotel. There were all the usual offerings – restaurants serving local Cambodian delights, Indian curry houses, hamburger places and a bug cafe. A bug cafe? It was number 26 on the list and had great reviews! Well, that’s a place that isn’t going to pass me by. This trip is all about adventure, new experiences and a bit of danger thrown in to boot. And if eating scorpion, tarantula and silk worm grubs doesn’t fit that bill, then what does?!
After a short discussion, Rosie made it clear that she wouldn’t like eating bugs and Aaron said he would prefer a sandwich. Ruben laughed and said he reckoned he could give it a try, but maybe not that night, so we decided we’d give it a few days to psych ourselves up.
When our mother and son date night arrived, we were excited. Father and daughter headed off for a curry and Ruben and I made our way to the Bug Cafe. The restaurant is a nice space, air-conditioned (this would come in useful later as we sweat our way through the meal…), lots of tables, a great bar and an interesting menu.
Ruben and I chose the ‘Discovery Platter’, which offers a selection of the best bugs available and is recommended to new diners. Ruben had a can of Sprite, I settled my nerves with a beer. We could have had cocktails, but at 5.30pm, I thought it was a bit early. I’m not that crazy!
When the platter arrived, the cafe owner David, helpfully sat down with us and told us about each of the selections and described their flavours. He then left us to it. We were given knives and forks to use, and actually, I wasn’t sure if this was actually the type of grub you might prefer to use chopsticks with?
Normally when a meal is put in front of you, the conversation continues and you just tuck in. There will be people who always opt for their favourite bit of the meal first, and those who save the best for last: when eating a roast dinner for example, I firstly always go for my favourite roast potatoes, whilst Rosie always leaves her best Yorkshire pudding to the end….
He looked at me nervously and I felt that I should just be brave and eat something to show him that it was ‘fine’. I started with one of the crickets, which had been wok-fried with the silk worm grubs, and cashew nuts, capsicum peppers, onion, garlic with additional Mediterranean flavours, including a sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top (which is a real luxury here in Asia!). I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised! It was crispy and quite tasty, so I then tried a silk worm grub too and again, was glad that it didn’t have too much of a distinct flavour and most importantly, there was no juice or goo! Mixed with the rest of the dish they were both fine and if I hadn’t seen what I was eating, I would probably have scoffed the lot pretty quickly.
Next was Ruben’s turn. Unfortunately, Ruben made the number 1 mistake when eating bugs: examining the contents of his fork a bit too closely. For this reason, the fork went in to his mouth and came back out quite a number of times, before he finally, very bravely ate the cricket. Like me, he agreed that yes, it was actually fine. It wasn’t horrible. He then tried the grub and looked a bit relieved. He’d said at the beginning of the meal that the one thing he definitely wouldn’t be eating were the crickets, and yet there he was, trying them first and almost liking them!
We then went for something a bit more ‘normal’, a spring roll featuring 2 different kinds of ants. To be honest, I didn’t even notice the ants. It wasn’t the best spring roll I’ve ever eaten, but it was OK. Ruben again unfortunately, closely examined the contents of the spring roll after his first micro-nibble. There were a lot of ants in there and he didn’t want any more, not even if it was disguised by being dipped into the sweet chilli sauce!
The tarantula ‘doughnut’ was next. As a bit of an arachnophobe, how would I feel actually eating one of these? Bearing in mind that I couldn’t even bear to experience a spider on my hand, could I now put one into my mouth? I decided as long as I didn’t see any hairs or movement, it would be OK. I took a nibble of one of the legs. It was fine! I tried a bit more and after seeing that it didn’t jump up and bite me, Ruben ate some too. We agreed it tasted a bit like deep fried chicken wings. I don’t know what I expected tarantula to taste like, but this wasn’t too bad!
Getting braver by the minute, we were now ready to try the bug-kebab, featuring scorpion, another tarantula and a huge water-bug. Despite being skewered with some onion and pepper, there was no disguising this lot. We just had to go for it…
The tarantula legs were no biggie – we’d already been there and done that, even if they had been disguised as a doughnut last time. I ate a scorpion leg too and lived to tell the tale. I cut a bit off the body and chowed down, having carefully dipped it into the homemade mayonnaise served with the platter to cover up what I was about to eat. Hmmm, not so good. It was a bit nutty and woody with a strong aftertaste. I must remember to ask Bear Grylls what his opinion of scorpion is next time we catch up. Ruben also had a piece ready to go on the end of his fork. Again, we had the fork in and out, up and down, dance. We both couldn’t stop giggling the whole time and I’m not sure they were happy giggles either. We were nervously making our way through.
He eventually ate it and we were in complete agreement – scorpion wasn’t going going to be on our list of top 5 favourite dishes anytime soon… or even the top 20! But we at least tried it, which felt like an achievement.
Finally we just had the water-bug left. Looking like a large black cockroach, however much colourful pepper, mango sauce or parmesan cheese was added, there was no way this could have been dressed up to look like something delicious. It was at this point I wondered if there were CCTV cameras in the place, so the staff could watch diners reactions and laugh at them squirming in their seats! I eventually ate the tiniest, littlest bit of water-bug wing – it was crispy, that’s all I can say; I just couldn’t try any more! Imagine eating a fly wing? Yep, that’s exactly what it was like. Ruben point-blank refused to eat it, and I agreed that he was making a completely sensible decision. He was not going to be missing out on an amazing culinary experience.
After gobbling the majority of the crickets and silk-worm grubs, most of the 2 tarantulas, partially dissecting the scorpion and swallowing a whole lots of ants in their various guises (I was hungry afterall!): we were done.
What did we think of our bug cafe experience?
Ruben says it wasn’t an easy meal to enjoy but afterwards he felt a real sense of achievement and he is glad he came along! I would say that just like bungee jumping, sky-diving and heli-skiing, this was an adrenaline-filled, scary, crazy, once-in-a-lifetime, never to be forgotten experience and I’m so glad I had my boy with me to giggle through the weirdest dinner I’ve ever had!
Next time we eat something back home that doesn’t quite live up to expectations or is downright horrible, we can both honestly say – “Well, I’ve had worse- at least it wasn’t as bad as that scorpion we ate in Cambodia!”