There was an old man who swallowed a spider

I was promised it would taste like chicken. It didn’t. So what is it like to eat a fried tarantula and then have a live spider put on your hands?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Eating fried tarantula in Cambodia

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.

What does tarantula taste like?

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 can’t believe I am eating tarantulas in Cambodia. 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 tastes 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.

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.

Where should you stay in Phnom Penh?

If you’re looking for a budget option, I would suggest the Share Hostel which is clean and quiet.
For something cheap but trendy, Patio Hotel and Urban Resort is a great place.
For good value luxury, you should try the Plantation Urban Resort with a pool in the middle of the city.
And if you want to splurge for somewhere special and unique, have a look at the Mane La Residence.

51 thoughts on “There was an old man who swallowed a spider”

  1. 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.

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  2. 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 😀

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    • 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!!

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  3. 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.

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    • 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….

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    • 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!

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  4. 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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  5. My daughter and I have just come back from Cambodia where we both ate crickets and tarantula. We actually enjoyed both of them and felt it did in fact taste like chicken. Perhaps it’s in the preparation and cooking. We also drank spider wine ( a jar of Rice wine with about 15 drowned spiders in it but it just tasted like Sherry

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  6. I am traveling to Siem Riep in November, and my local contact has already threatened me with the prospect of feeding me tarantula. Your post has given me some confidence that I can do this. Some.

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  7. My tarantula-eating experience came after I bought one from a road-side seller in Cambodia. Really liked it – it did taste like chicken, to me. That and Marmite. Very bizarre but pretty palatable. Maybe it depends on how they cook it? The worst thing was the hairy legs!

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  8. I tried crickets and maggots in Siem Reap, and I think after reading your blog, I should go back and eat tarantulas.

    And with your experience as my basis, I think I can also do that. LOL!

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  9. Interesting read if not few years late ha. Enjoyed the mushroom article too. Strangest thing I’ve eaten is escargot and frog legs, nothing too crazy.

    Old World tarantulas (Australia, Asia, and Africa) are typically very defensive and have more potent venom than their New World counterparts in the Americas. I would bet money that the spider you held had been defanged thus no risk of a bite. The waiter looks a bit too relaxed and happy considering what he’s holding 😉 He likely would not have offered to let you hold it if it could’ve bit you. Effects from venom in OW T’s include intense pain and swelling, debilitating muscle cramps, nausea, and vomiting. I know of one African species that has been shown to have cardiovascular effects on the heart.

    It’s common practice to defang them when being sold for food for safety iirc. Ones in the pet trade, however, are not defanged and shouldn’t be otherwise they cannot eat on their own.

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  10. I think that you should die in hell go fuck your self because I own a pet tranchula(it’s a spider)and that would be like you eating my pet so go fuck your self and whirl your at it go and die in hell

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  11. Oh yes, tarantula…I don’t think I could stretch it that far, but good on you for trying! Weirdest thing I ever ate was a Witchetty grub in OZ. I used to live in France too and frequently ate snails and frogs legs…not as scary as spiders though!

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