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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Insects & Épicure

Insects & Épicure

Insects & Épicure

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

of nutrients.

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

properties.

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."

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