South East Asia is a great place to eat extraordinary things. The delicate flavours of curries laced with coconut milk and crispy crickets, warming ginger packed full of health benefits, juicy silkworms and fresh mangoes, dragonfruit and rambutan. Fusion foods borrow tastes from India, China, the Middle East and beyond. Signs outside eateries take pride in stating they “do not serve cat, rat, lizard or dog”. You can get an entire meal for $2 if you know where to go with (pretty much) unlimited rice. It’s more than likely cheaper to eat out than it is to cook, and believe me when I say that the weather and humidity is not conducive to standing next to your little portable stove in any case!
So it was on the way back from Preah Vihear that I was coerced into visiting a Siem Reap tourist attraction I’d managed to steer clear of so far. It’s a restaurant. Great reviews on TripAdvisor. This place is called Bug’s Café. And you guessed it, they serve crispy crickets, juicy silkworms, pan-fried scorpion and ant spring rolls. And other bugs too, of course!
When I spoke to my parents on Skype last weekend, I told them about the experience, and I can only imagine that your face right now, dear reader, is much like that my mother pulled when I told her that waterbugs are basically cockroaches. And though the texture is not the most pleasurable, the taste was really good.
The kitchen at Bug’s Café is looked after by a very talented French chef and the menu really is quite something to behold, with chutneys and pesto, sauces and other accompaniments. After much debate about the Mediterranean Feuilletés with ants or the tarantula doughnuts, with some of our party flat out refusing to eat some bug or other, we eventually ordered a discovery platter, wanting to try a little bit of everything, and when our waitress arrived with our food, she very quickly explained how to eat the delicacies on the plate.
“The scorpion should be eaten with the salad; it is very good together. But you should not eat the pincers or the head, just the tail and body, up to the neck. Same with the waterbugs, please do not eat the head. Does anyone need another drink? No? Okay, please enjoy your meal!”
After everyone snapped a few pictures, we went about trying to equally share out the meal. Personally, I wanted to try the curry. I guess it’s the Indian blood in me that wants any excuse to try a new curry! We could choose which bugs we wanted and in what style they were to be cooked. The choices were hot, coconut, green and Mediterranean. We went for a mixed insect coconut curry, and it was seriously good. Check out that cricket on my fork. Mmmmm.
Naturally as we were munching on our insect skewers – one bite of scorpion, one cherry tomato – we started chatting about the nutritional value of eating bugs, and they may actually be the way forward. Low in fat, high in protein and in abundance, insects are one of the most efficient foods you could possibly choose to eat. And super good for the planet too, because if you think of how much methane is produced by one cow, compared to an entire bucket full of crickets… you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do the math. Note the stats for those who like a protein-rich diet: dried beef is about 50 percent protein, but dried crickets weigh in at 65 percent protein. And let’s face it, it all depends on how food is prepared and seasoned as to whether you enjoy it or not. The most expensive cut of beef can taste completely rubbish if it is cooked incorrectly.
The cocktails and even the fruit juices were divine. I ordered a watermelon concoction with mint and basil that was delicious. A lot of the drinks had healthy servings of fresh ginger blended within to give a spicy taste. One of the cocktails had coriander and fresh chilli in it, by grandmother would have been impressed! She’d have served that up as a chutney for her samosas. But there would be no trace of tarantula in her recipe!
In conclusion, whilst the health benefits seem plentiful, I don’t think I’m going to make insects my meat of choice, and to be honest, I didn’t eat the tarantula because I’ve always been freaked out by spiders (nothing needs that many legs, and that many eyes… it’s just being greedy!), but I would recommend to eat bugs at least once in your life. The experience really is awesome. Plus you get some pretty cool pictures. I mean, even the décor was funky!