They're creepy, they're crawly and they were probably mankind's original meal. Before
hunting, farming, or fishing, insects were the food of choice for prehistoric peoples
around the world.
Nutritionists claim dietary habits are established by the age of five: explaining
why the practice of entomophagy-the eating of insects-remains a near taboo for Western
palates. But, as an affordable and accessible protein, bugs are still consumed by
millions of people living in traditional societies, including Cambodia. According
to author Dr Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, insects are the most wholesome source of protein
on earth- more nutritious than soy, beef or fish-and are the most concentrated sources
In Cambodia, they're served with salt. For thousands of years, people here have served
up insects as a tasty snack, and maintained the belief that some have potent medicinal
Riverside food stalls near the Royal Palace sell a variety of flying, crawling and
biting bugs, and many Cambodians consider them the perfect, ready-to-eat treat.
Riverside seller Sok Lin said many loyal customers ride their bikes from the outskirts
of Phnom Penh to buy insects to snack on throughout the day. On an average day, she
makes a profit of about 30,000 to 40,000 riel.
More than ten species of insects are sold along the riverside. The most commonly
eaten invertebrates include grasshoppers, cicadas, termites, ants, beetle larvae,
caterpillars, spiders, tarantulas and scorpions. But Sok Lin said the most popular
bug is the cricket.
"The cricket is very yummy, I love eating it with my friends," Sorn Paygna,
a regular customer said. Sok Lin said the insects she sells are imported from different
provinces such as Kampong Thom, Pursat and Takeo.
Some customers prefer to eat live or raw specimens, but those sold along the riverside
are all cooked and seasoned. Sok Lin said insects are easy-to-mix ingredients and
she usually adds salt, sugar and soy sauce, before deep-frying them to ensure their
juice stays inside and they taste fresh.
Thay Iengly, professor of biology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said most
insects are low on the food chain and are food for animals like birds and fish. Ecologically
most edible insects are not harmful to human beings and are important in soil formation
and nutrient recycling. For example, crickets and cicadas eat pests that damage crops.
Biologically most insects contain essential amino acids and are rich in protein.
The practical value of eating insects is creeping into prominence. Some experts say
that insects can help meet humanity's growing nutritional needs. For the recently
published book, Man Eating Bugs, the husband and wife team of Peter Menzel and Faith
D'Aluisio, spent eight years researching the history and practice of entomophagy
around the world.
"Our view of the culinary potential of invertebrates broadened as we ate raw
scorpion in China, roasted grubs in Australia, stir-fried dragonflies in Indonesia,
tarantulas on a stick in Cambodia, and live termites in Botswana," they write.
"Perhaps the most memorable meal was Theraposa Leblondi, a tarantula big enough
to hunt , which we ate with the Yanomami Indians in the Venezuelan rain forest."