Alright....I'll come right out and say it - I AM TERRIFIED of something that I so desperately want to try!!!
Like many of you on the Western side of pond, scorpions, tarantulas, maggots, snakes, beetles and other creepy crawlers were not part of our Mama's cooking. We ran from them in fact...leaping onto the nearest sofas, smashing them with shoes and a slew of other random objects, or if you're anything like the daughter of my father, capturing them gently under a bowl or cup and releasing them safely into the wild (preferably across the street somewhere with the hope that they wouldn't find their way back).
(This cucaracha to the left was captured and released from my home here in Cambodia a few nights ago. I named him George.)
I've travelled quite a bit, and have been exposed to edible bugs on numerous occasions - which, of course, are considered a culinary delight by many. I've walked past countless food stands since my first stint in Asia in the mid-90s, and observed as people indulged in what I tried to imagine as roasted almonds (even 'chocolate-covered' for that added touch of courage at times) or glazed nuts spiced to perfection as I tried to build up the courage to try them for myself. It didn't work back then, and apparently it still doesn't.
...I need to get over that!
Just this past week, I had the privilege of shooting some footage at Siem Reap's highly respected Bugs Cafe for a New York-based travel publication. The food, their menu and colourful dishes looked and smelled amaaaaazing!!! The scorpions and tarantulas, cooked and plated to perfection alongside beautifully roasted veggies, were not fierce looking at all! And, perhaps most importantly, everyone who ate there that night (from those savouring crunchy crawlers for the first time, to the restaurant's loyal customers) consumed those creatures without hesitation, chewed them carefully and, loved them!
So why the heck am I missing out?!?
Well, I think it's safe to say that it's because of that particular mental block that comes with having understood something one way during one's entire lifetime (thus far), and then having to undo it all. The good thing about that, as we all know, is that our minds and perceptions can evolve, adapt and shift once we educate ourselves and are able to better understand the world around us. So, like with many other dilemmas in life, this is possible and do-able...
Here are just a few basic facts (according the the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and other scientific publications):
1) Bugs are highly nutritional (and therefore - healthy!).
2) They're packed with protein, iron, calcium and healthy fats.
3) The bug diet also comes with many environmental and social benefits (with many researchers claiming that it can in fact help address the problem of global food insecurity and world hunger).
That list goes on, and on...
Unlike the majority of street food stands that serve insects, arachnids and small reptiles in many cities across Asian countries, where they are "fried, re-fried and fried again" says Davy Blouzard (the co-owner of Bugs Cafe), his restaurant prides itself in fine bug cuisine.
From mouthwatering stir-fried dishes to crispy tempura tarantulas, their menu is undoubtably beautiful - capable of detracting one's mind from the fear and ick that many of us have embedded in our minds.
What makes it even more appealing is that their prized ingredients are sourced from only the finest and most respected suppliers. Take those highly-popular tarantulas and scorpions that provide for that dramatic effect in many selfies for example... Davy says they buy them from a local supplier who captures them by hand.
The process is an incredible one (and a story I'd love to document here also). Local farmers with a long history of tracking, locating and capturing those creatures, do so in the open fields and beautiful rural landscapes of Cambodia's countryside. Unlike the creatures that are sourced from "bug farms" by most street vendors, Bug Cafe's delicacies come from the wild.
Sounds pretty good so far, doesn't it?
So....will I finally be able to sample this fine cuisine for myself? I think so....I think I can, I think I can, I think I can (yes, that's a little mantra from the Little Engine That Could ;)
All that's left for me to do, is to overcome the memory of my four day dry-heaving experience after I mistakenly consumed an entire package of maggot-infested multigrain crackers in Ottawa, Canada (living, squirming grossness that I mistook for sesame seeds from the corner of my eye).
Ok, enough for now - I got this! (I think..?)
Please standby, more to come ;)
Bon appétit mes amis!