Watching fat, live grubs wriggle around in a bowl at the New Singapore City restaurant, it takes a bit of willpower to clasp the chopsticks and stick one in your mouth.
One good coup de grace with your chompers, however, sends the grub to larvae heaven in a somewhat tangy burst of innards. Some even say there is a hint of coconut flavour.
“I decided to bring [live grubs] to the restaurant because people always want food that can help to improve their health,” said restaurant owner Sophal, who added that grubs were rich in carbohydrates, protein and vitamins B and C.
Sophal said the grubs, which aren’t commonly eaten in Cambodia, were popular among rich locals and Chinese visitors as a pub food to be snacked on over beer.
“They always eat good food, and one of those foods includes small and large palm grubs, because Chinese people say if a man eats it, it gives him a more powerful body, and if a woman eats it, it gives her good skin because of the protein,” he said.
New Singapore City’s grubs are sourced from Kampong Thom, where they live in the bark of coconut trees, and are stored live in branches kept at the restaurant. They’re similar to Australian witchetty grubs and, when not eaten in time, become beetles. Although they can live for up to three weeks, Sophal said high customer demand meant that rarely lasted a week.
The smaller ones go for $1.25 a plate and the larger (and, said Sophal, tastier) ones for $5. They can be served either raw or barbequed in butter.
“The taste of raw grub is far different from the fried and grilled, but the raw grub has a more original taste, like coconut meat,” said Sophal.
Grubs aren’t the only creepy-crawlies served in Sophal’s kitchen. Scorpions, which are kept live in a tank on the bar like lobsters in a US grocery store, have also proved popular with his clientele.
Served fried, the venomous arachnids from Cambodia’s mountains taste a bit like chicken and have the texture of crayfish.
“Scorpion is a kind of medicine and food which has nourishment as well as the benefit of the element of fire in the body – Chinese people always use them when they’re sick,” said Sophal, adding that scorpion also has anti-inflammatory properties.
But Sophal warned not to eat them with milk, as it could trigger a poisonous reaction. Post Weekend declined to test this theory.
With business booming, Sophal said he was trying to decide what strange delicacy to add to his menu next.
“I feel that a lot of people come to my place because of the natural food in the menu served fried, grilled and raw,” he said, adding that the overwhelming majority of guests were Khmer or Chinese.
“I myself will eat seven large grubs among 10 when I share with another person.”
New Singapore City is located at Street 368 near the corner of Street 113. It is open from 3-11pm.