There was an old man who swallowed a spider

eating tarantula, phnom penh, cambodia, strange food, eating spiders, romdeng restaurant

There was an old man who swallowed a spider

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Eating fried tarantula

As you travel around the world, you end up trying a lot of the local cuisine. Most of it is delicious – like the gozleme in Turkey. Some of it is hard to find – like these mushrooms in Spain. And some it is just downright weird and revolting – like the food at the penis restaurant in Beijing.

But I have never had anything as creepy or crawly as the fried tarantula I ate in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Yep, you read that right, spiders!

The menu looks delicious but, at first glance, rather approachable. There’s no sign of animals with more than four legs. There’s marinated grilled beef salad, char grilled eggplant, steamed Mekong river fish, and so on. All would be very suitable choices. But not for me. I’ve got stomach pangs for fangs.

So I point to the menu item. ‘Crispy tarantulas served with lime and pepper sauce’. I’m a little disappointed the waiter doesn’t seem shocked. I was hoping for a quick inhalation, a dilution of pupils, a nervous glance around the room. But he just takes the menu from me and walks away. “Oh, and another beer”, I shout after him. That seems to get more of a reaction. At least he rolls his eyes.

eating tarantula, phnom penh, cambodia, strange food, eating spiders, romdeng restaurant

When the dish arrives, I’m not disappointed. There on the plate are three large tarantulas. Two of them have the legs splayed like they’re waiting for their insect prey. The other looks slightly shrivelled, as though it knew it was being thrown onto a hot pan. Such a twisted web of fries.

As I put my fork into one of the spiders, I hear a cracking like a shell breaking. The shivers up my spine make no noise, though. I lift the arachnid to my mouth and bite first into the legs. They break easily beneath my teeth and taste a lot like a prawn tail. It takes a few chews before I can swallow them down but it’s not nearly as unpleasant on my palette as I expected.

The same cannot be said for the body.

eating tarantula, phnom penh, cambodia, strange food, eating spiders, romdeng restaurant

I put the whole abdomen into my mouth in one go. It kind of looks like a caramel lolly and you wouldn’t bite that in half so I apply the same logic. It turns out to not be a logical decision because now I have an entire spider body in my mouth and they are apparently not the easiest things to eat. It takes like digested insects – not like chicken, as the waiter had promised. It’s not disgusting but neither is it a particularly enjoyable sensation. The more I chew it, the more it turns into a hardened little ball. It’s the reverse of that caramel lolly I had imagined.

In the end, I make a brave decision just to swallow. The little masticated lump of abdomen in my mouth is not getting any smaller so I just gulp it down… and reach for that beer I had presciently ordered.

Tarantulas in Cambodia

Later in the evening the waiter returns with another tarantula. This time, it’s alive. He holds it on his hand and it sits relatively still. (Perhaps post traumatic stress disorder from seeing his friends flambéed!) He offers to put it on my hands but I’m a bit wary. I buy some time by starting a conversation.

eating tarantula, phnom penh, cambodia, strange food, eating spiders, romdeng restaurant

“Where do you get them from?” I ask.

“We call suppliers from the Kampong Cham Province”, he explains, “but the suppliers find from the land, in the jungle.”

I can feel my distraction is wearing thin. I ask whether he eats them himself.

“Yeah, I like sometimes. It’s very nice taste.”

eating tarantula, phnom penh, cambodia, strange food, eating spiders, romdeng restaurant

It’s not too surprising, perhaps. This Phnom Penh restaurant called Romdeng is a training ground for street children who want to learn new skills to get into the workforce and improve their lives. If anyone’s not going to be scared of a little (or not so little) spider, it’s the people working here.

So, because I didn’t want to seem afraid and shrivelled up like a third of my meal, I decide it’s time to face the fear of fangs. I put my hands out and a live tarantula is placed on them. What do you think – do I look bothered?

eating tarantula, phnom penh, cambodia, strange food, eating spiders, romdeng restaurant

As it turns out, I’m not bitten and it looks like I’ll survive to fight another day and eat another venomous arthropod. My biggest concern, though? I was always taught that it’s rude to play with your food.

You can find out more information here about Romdeng restaurant and the work they do

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39 Comments
  • Marco | Mar 8, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Still better than penis

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:16 pm

      Ha ha ha – that is indeed true!! :)

  • Maria | Mar 8, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I’ve eaten Balut and would do it again but there’s no way I’d eat a spider. *shiver, cringe*
    Maria recently posted..Catch and ReleaseMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:17 pm

      Honestly, it didn’t taste that bad! :)

    • Jun | Oct 1, 2013 at 11:36 pm

      Balut is very nice and delicious. Most of us, Filipinos, love to eat it.

  • Samuel Jeffery | Mar 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Might go nice with snake wine ;)
    Samuel Jeffery recently posted..Thailand Slideshow Travel Video Series Part 27My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      Ha ha. Let’s try that combination sometime!! :)

  • Charli l Wanderlusters | Mar 8, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Jeepers Creepers. Literally! You’re a brave chap, I think it’s a good tactic to show you the live version after you’ve ingested his fried compadre!
    Charli l Wanderlusters recently posted..Liebster Blog AwardMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:21 pm

      Yeah, I think if I’d seen the live one first I might have had second thoughts about ordering it!

  • Lucy | Mar 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I love that you wrote an entire paragraph just to build up to ‘such a twisted web of fries.’

    • Dale | Mar 8, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      My favourite piece of the article :)

      Ergh, saying that made me think of a piece of spider between my teeth – double ergh.
      Dale recently posted..6 Months Travel Anniversary – Now What?My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      A whole paragraph? Please, dear, give me some credit. I wrote the whole post just to use that line!! :)

  • Sophie | Mar 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I’d try a little bit, a leg maybe. I hear they contain heaps of proteins… :)
    Sophie recently posted..Legoland, the original oneMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      I’m not sure how good they are for you… but they can’t be worse than other fried foods.

  • ITALIAN/Franca | Mar 8, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Brave! Unbelievable, I admire people that like you have the courage to try some ‘unusual’ tasty bites. I personally cannot do it and cannot thinking of myself even trying, it’s stronger than me unfortunately.
    ITALIAN/Franca recently posted..6 Months Travel Anniversary – Now What?My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:25 pm

      I think the key was not to think too much about it. I just kind of ordered it and the it was there and then I just ate it. Too much thinking and I might have backed out!

  • Natalie | Mar 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Would never eat it on a million years. Well done to you!
    Natalie recently posted..The Beehive Houses of HarranMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Oh, you say that now, but I’m sure you’d give it a go if you came to Cambodia. The legs, at least, were kind of tasty ;)

  • Mette - Italian Notes | Mar 8, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    In Puglia, Italy, Tarantula bites make you dance till you drop, which can be quite an affliction, and without a tambourine in sight I’d definitely let the spiders pass – both plate and hands.

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Ha ha. I think it’s a slightly different tarantula bite. The Italian one sounds much more fun :)

  • Mumun | Mar 9, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    I had a tarantula in Cambodia too, but I had it from a street vendor. So many to choose from. Personally, these creepy crawly tasted pretty much the same, which was OK. But I have to say, the worse was the maggot. I thought I was ready for it. I could never be ready for the bitter icky-ness after the first bite. Bleh! You should try it though :D
    Mumun recently posted..Sua Pelancong – How Travelers Become IntimateMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      Oh wow, I think getting it from a street vendor is much braver. I haven’t seen any during my time here but the good thing about the restaurant was you didn’t have to look at the spiders before you ordered it. By the time it was on your table, it was kind of too late!!

  • Angela | Mar 10, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Very mouthwatering o_O I would have never eaten it, and not because of my vegetarian diet ;)
    Angela recently posted..Mighty Iguazu Waterfalls, a photo journeyMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 10, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      Oh yes, of course, the vegetarian diet. That seems like a completely reasonable excuse! Ahem..

  • Jade Johnston - OurOyster.com | Mar 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I think I would rather watch someone else eat it than eat it myself lol

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 3:23 am

      Oh, but where’s the fun in that, eh? :)

  • Flora the Explorer | Mar 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Good god, Michael.. The body of a tarantula is akin to a caramel lolly, huh? I’m never, ever sharing a bag of sweets with you..
    Flora the Explorer recently posted..A Very Ecuadorian BirthdayMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 3:24 am

      It was more the idea than the taste. But, good, I wouldn’t share with you either! Hmph!

  • Jennifer | Mar 12, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Well, supposedly we swallow something like 20 spiders a year in our sleep so why not try a fried tarantula?!
    Jennifer recently posted..Dinner in the DarkMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 3:25 am

      I’d prefer to eat a fried one than a live one that happened to wander into my mouth!

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica | Mar 12, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Love the title. Based on your description, I now know there is no need for me to try one. Thank you :-)
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..A celebration for the foodies of ColumbusMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 3:29 am

      Ha ha – that’s such a cop out! I challenge you to try one sometime! That’s right, a challenge!!

  • TammyOnTheMove | Mar 12, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    I have been living in Cambodia for 1.5 yrs now and still haven’t braved to eat tarantulas. Have you tried foetus duck egss yet? You can get them at Orussey Market in PP.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Flashback Friday: The time I thought I’d be eaten by a sharkMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 3:34 am

      Ewww… no, I haven’t tried them and don’t think I’m particularly keen to! I missed them when I was in PP but will look out for them if I’m back there sometime. Although, to repeat, ewww….

  • BlogDaz | Mar 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I’ve eaten a cricket or 2, I’m quite happy to watch kids munch on a bag of bugs, but spiders, yuk. you’re a braver man than me.
    BlogDaz recently posted..Bored in BuriramMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 3:41 am

      Munching on a bag of bugs is not something I’ve ever understood. It seems like such a prolonged process! At least I could just quickly swallow the spider and it was over and done with!

  • Linda @EcoTraveller | Mar 19, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Oh, holy sweet Jesus! OK, you win… the rest of the internet has failed in the who’s eaten the weirdest crap stakes!
    (And I’ve just got one step closer in my phobia desensitization thingo)
    Linda @EcoTraveller recently posted..Orana Wildlife Park, Christchurch, New ZealandMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Ha ha – I’m sure there are some stranger things out there than this. I feel like I’ve upped the ante a bit and will have to find something even weirder to try next!

  • Annmarie | Jan 6, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Heading to Cambodia this month and was considering trying the delicacy but was labouring under the misapprehension it was only the legs. Now that you’ve mentioned the not-so-caramel-lolly body, I might give it a miss. Thank you for being the Guinea pig! You’re braver than most! :)

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