Posted on 02 Jul 2016 22:56
You probably already know that in many human cultures, people eat insects, grubs, and worms. Eating creepy crawly things is, in fact, the norm, not the exception.
Grasshoppers are routinely eaten in many parts of the world. And even the lowly earthworm is a valuable source of protein. But spiders? While it's possible the occasional spider might be accidentally swallowed, to intentionally eat a spider, you'd have to be desperate, right?
Well, in Cambodia, fried spider is a delicacy. Specifically, in the town of Skuon, located about 45 miles from Phnom Penh, the nation's capital, they enjoy eating a type of Asian tarantula called ah pieng. It's about two inches across and is said to taste a little like crunchy fried prawns.
After the spiders are deep fried with a little salt and garlic, the locals eat them a bit like eating a crab. They pull off the legs and then suck the meat, or spider flesh, that comes with them, which is very little, and then tackle the head and body. The abdomen, the big fat portion at the back of the spider, is not desirable, as it is mostly a brown, bitter slush, containing organs, eggs, and poop.
Sometimes, the spiders are pickled in wine, which is how pregnant women supposedly prefer them.
The fried spiders are served in restaurants and at sold at market.
The locals gather the spiders in the forest from They catch the tarantulas by poking a stick down their holes, wait for the spider to attack the stick, and then pull the stick out with the spider clinging to it.underground burrows, where it is possible to find up to five a day. They make sure to remove the fangs because a bite from one of these tarantulas can cause a few days of very bad pain and fever (although some folks are relatively immune to its bite), but otherwise, they keep the spiders alive, and fresh, until ready to cook.
To prepare, the spiders are quickly dispatched, tossed in seasoning consisting of MSG, sugar, and salt. Some garlic is fried in oil until the oil takes on some of the garlic flavor, and then the spiders are added, and fried until the legs are nice and stiff.
The drink of choice to go with a helping of fried tarantulas is Angkor beer, the national brand of Cambodia, although, of course, any beer will do.
According to many sources, the spider eating in Cambodia is a relatively recent occurrence, and legend has it that it began during the Khmer Rouge regime, during which the people were starving, and began eating the tarantulas, and all sorts of other creatures, gathered from the forest. Others way that it is a long-held practice. Regardless, they don't eat them now because they are starving, they eat them because they find them delicious, and other people from around the country actually travel to Skuon specifically to buy and eat the spiders. Cost may vary but if you decide to travel there and try them yourself, expect to pay about six cents per spider.
The video below shows people, mostly tourist, reacting to and eating tarantulas in Cambodia. It also shows tarantulas crawling on people, and at least one local girl plunking a whole live tarantula in her mouth. Watch the young boy eating one at around 0:44. He seems to have little trouble with the legs, but then it appears, from his reaction, that he has eaten the abdomen. Yuck! It is still not clear, based on my research, if this part of the spider is always avoided, or whether some people like to eat it.
In The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, which actually is an entire cookbook devoted to bug recipes, there is a recipe for deep-fried tarantula spider. Author David George Gordon recommends either a Texas brown, a Chilean rose, or "similar-sized tarantulas." If this seems to suggest that any tarantula that is big enough to be worth deep-frying and eating is fair-game and safe to eat, that is exactly what it suggests.
In fact, Gordon actually explains why a tarantula might be better to eat than a grasshopper, beetle, or other and-dwelling arthropod. All of these have an outer layer of chitin. This chitin is the same type of material that lobsters, shrimp, and crabs wear. Incidentally, it is also a component of the cell-membranes of mushrooms and other fungi which may be one reason why cooking mushrooms could make them easier to digest (there is some limited evidence of the existence of a human 'chitinase' or chitin enzyme).
Tarantulas, though, compared to grasshoppers or beetles, have a chitin covering that is relatively think and pliable. This makes for a chewy, rather the crunchy, eating experience, and makes it easier to get at the spider meat. Yes, spiders have muscles.
Gordon's fried tarantula recipe is really a tempura spider (using frozen tarantulas), and he simply does away with the inedible abdomens. As for the tarantula fur, he singes it off with a creme brulee torch or a cigarette lighter. He dips the spiders in tempura batter and deep fries them like you would most anything else. Although the instructions don't mention it, the ingredients call for smoked paprika, so I imagine the fried spiders get a dusting. This simple recipe won him the gold in the first Big Bug Cook-Off, which was held on May 2011 at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
He also includes a recipe for wolf spider spanokopita, called Spin-akopita, a spider, spinach, and feta cheese filling inside phyllo dough.
In her book, Edible: And Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet, Daniella Martin tells of her experience in Japan at a strange party where they passed around spider liqueur and Hornet vodka, and where she ate, among insects and meal-worms, big fried colorful weaver spiders, which stung her mouth.
Deep-fried spiders are also enjoyed in Thailand. In fact, in Thailand you can find spiders to eat, as well as many insects and larvae. There, they eat grasshoppers, crickets, ants, water bugs, bamboo worms (actually the larvae of a moth), silk larvae, and even scorpions. If you visit a market in Bangkok you may not even notice the fried spiders, you'll be looking at so many other creepy crawly food. In fact, since so few visitors actually want to eat them, but everybody wants to take a picture of them, its gotten to where vendors will charge tourists, which they probably pay, since it is about 28 cents U.S.
They do the same type of thing in China. You can see the fried spiders on a stick, along with larvae and other unidentifiable (for me) delicacies. The spiders are 5 to a stick and are being sold, at the Donghuamen night market in Beijing. You can watch the same fellow who took the photo below enjoying one of the spiders, which he says were seasoned with a chili salt.
Fried Spiders on a stick and other delicacies from food market vendor in Beijing, China
Image by Yun Huang Yong via FlickrImage Credit
**Fried Spiders on a stick and other delicacies from food market
vendor in Beijing, China **
Image by Yun Huang Yong via FlickrImage Credit
These are but a few example of edible spiders around the world. Although to the Western mind, this seems repulsive, consider that both spiders and insects belong to the phylum Arthropoda. You know what else this phylum includes? Shrimp, lobsters, and crabs! I often tell my wife that lobsters, which I do not like to eat, are nothing more than giant sea cockroaches. Shrimps, on the other hand, I give a free pass to. Regardless of my personal preferences, there is nothing odd at all about humans eating spiders and insects. It is part of our primate heritage and to ignore these food sources would be to ignore, perhaps, the most abundant source of protein food the world has to offer.
Eating spiders is not all that unusual, but is it true that people accidentally swallow eight spiders per year?
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