While insects have long been considered a tasty street side snack in Cambodia, a woman in the capital is giving this street food delicacy a modern twist at Phnom Penh’s latest unusual takeaway joint.
Standing in her kitchen at her home in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district, which acts as the hub of her takeaway business Sruoy Sruoy (Crunchy, Crunchy), 28-year-old former IT worker Meas Vannita pours a cascade of giant fried insects into a takeaway box featuring a red logo of a smiling ant.
“When I was working in IT, I felt frustrated only picking up a monthly salary at a business owned by someone else. I wanted to do something with my name as the owner."
“I discussed it with my family and we decided to open a small business selling fried insects because it’s a popular snack. It’s also convenient because my in-law wholesales different kinds of insects,” she says.
Vannita wanted to bring this Cambodian tradition into the mainstream and give it a modern twist through a variety of flavours – including BBQ, hot and spicy and cheese. Her speciality is big crickets and grasshoppers.
It’s estimated that two billion people worldwide eat insects as part of their traditional daily diet, with Cambodia among the best known for its inventive use of creepy crawlies in its cuisine.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, there are around 1,900 different species of insects that are used as food, including beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, maggots, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, termites, dragonflies and flies.
Though the thought of putting a maggot in your mouth remains a step too far for many Westerners, scientists and celebrities alike have long championed the nutritious health benefits and good taste of cooked insects.
A 2013 UN report said edible insects and bugs could play a large role in feeding the world’s population in 2050 when it’s expected to hit nine billion. While in 2017, Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie made the traditional snack world famous when a video she published went viral showing her family cooking and eating insects in Cambodia.
For Vannita, in order to bring this snack to a wider audience – who she knows may not feel confident eating such unusual animals – she remains very vigilant about providing the highest hygiene, health and safety standards.
“We not only prioritise the taste, but also the quality, hygiene and health safety. We only use oil once and discard it. Recycling the oil and using it to fry insects again and again is harmful to our clients’ health,” she says, pointing at a row of bottles filled with oil.
Vannita currently takes orders online and delivers to her clients, but she plans to turn her home into a shop with more insect options from which to choose from.
“I’m thinking of adding Tarantulas, silkworms, giant water bugs and many other kinds of insects so when people are craving insects, they think Sruoy Sruoy,” she says.
One small box of pregnant crickets from Sruoy Sruoy costs $5, while a big one is $10. One small box of normal crickets and grasshoppers costs $3, while a big one is $6.
Sruoy Sruoy can be contacted via telephone (012686444) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/sruoy).