What can you say about the decidedly unlovely tarantulas of Skuon? Except that they aren't very lovely. Certainly, they are much prized in Cambodia – anyone who goes to Skuon is expected to bring back a bag of big roasted spiders for the kids. When told that these rancid, sugared arachnids are less than popular in the West, Cambodians are shocked and surprised. They find western cheese-eating equally repugnant, of course.
The people of the Isan region in north-east Thailand are fabled for their adventurous eating habits: one town north of Bangkok is renowned for selling huge baked forest rats around harvest time. But it's the insect-eating of Isan that is most striking: villagers go out at all hours to harvest many varieties of bugs. Big black water beetles, with their crackling, scrunchy moreishness, are regarded as a special delicacy. The legs get stuck between your teeth, though.
Again, these are served freshly roasted, and very salty, from the innumerable insect stalls dotted around Thailand's cities – especially near the red-light districts. A special feature of the crickets are the diaphanous and silvery wings, which, when mashed between the teeth, give the odd impression you are eating a recently microwaved fairy. Peter Pan would be appalled.
The humble ant is jam-packed with all kinds of vitamins and minerals; the only problem is that you have to eat an entire nest to get a decent meal. The taste is a little bit peppery and a little bit earthy, and the texture is a little bit scratchy. Only the bravest of the brave eat the inch-long queen; reports say that this seriously chewy creature has an extra oily "squidginess" all its own. Bon appétit.
Snake has a strange flavour, somewhat like eating the leg of an aged hare, though it is somewhat stringier. Even nicer is snake egg – like consuming a small, greasy, yellow eyeball. Then there's snake heart and snake blood, much beloved of many Asian cultures, for the virility they are supposed to provide. Vietnamese eat the heart straight from the still-thrashing cadaver of the reptile.
Fresh, hot, steaming sow's womb is a must-try in the vivacious food markets of Indochina. The locals like to boil or steam it in steel pans, then slice it into delicate little circles somewhat like calamari, but much more worrying. The coils of uterine pig tissue have a texture somewhere between a rubber band and the spongy stuff that comes out of broken sofas; they are traditionally dipped in hot chilli for some extra flavour.
Various amphibians are downed in south-east Asia: you can find frogs, newts, salamanders and multicoloured toads which have been skinned, fried, battered and grilled, and otherwise cooked up a treat. Perhaps the most unpleasant preparation – to Western tastes – is the dried frog. Like eating a very small, chewy, unhygienic, dead mermaid.Reuse content