Dare to Try: Fried Insects in Cambodia

In the streets of Cambodia, you can see peddlers selling fried insects: tarantulas, crickets, beetles, silkworms and crickets in Cambodia’s public market. It is a popular snack among the locals— and a more exotic treat worthy of bragging rights for daring tourists like me.

Check out our video trying fried insects in Siem Reap Cambodia here:

Fried Insects in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Insects and spiders became part of the Khmer diet during the terror years of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s reign. Quick history lesson: the Pol Pot regime saw one of the worst human genocide in the history of mankind. An estimated 2 to 3 million civilians died due to mass killings committed by the Khmer Rouge. The others who did survive the executions, died because of starvation and disease.

During the civil war, the insects provide the necessary protein and energy otherwise absent in their forced ration of 6 teaspoons of rice porridge a day. Imagine that… For people to survive a day of imposed force labor? And under the sweltering heat with only 6 teaspoons!

To quote one survivor, ‘Food was more important than God’ during those hard times. They would eat anything they could get their hands on; like insects and even human flesh from the deceased!

What is most odd about this civil war is that it’s not done by an external force. Say, Nazis against Jews like the Holocaust, or white people against black slaves, or aliens against humans. The civil war was Cambodians killing fellow Cambodians.

When Pol Pot’s regime came to an end, they were more than happy to stop surviving on human flesh; but developed the taste for fried insects and tarantulas.

Do you want to know more about Cambodia? I’ve written a budget travel guide on how we were able to survive Cambodia in less than 1,000 PHP or 20 USD a day! Read about it on Budget Travel Guide – Siem Reap, Cambodia.

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Author: Rachel Arandilla

too neurotic for the island life, but too bohemian for the corporate life.

17 thoughts

  1. Nice tid bit, I didn’t know it’s because of Pol Pot regime that started this whole exotic food thing in Cambodia. I did see those insect being sold on the side street but I didn’t find the need to try them. I’m okay with bread hahaha…

  2. Yikes… i saw a lot of dishes like this as featured in some tv documentaries.. we also have provinces who cater such exotic dishes but I do not think i have enough courage to taste one especially that cockroach-like insect….I have tasted frog legs though if you count it as an exotic one and surprisingly they taste like chicken…

    1. In Asia, we have a saying about not wasting every part of a good animal–it has died for us anyway. So in the Philippines, we have dishes that require all parts of the animal, from pig’s brains to pig’s blood! So I think insects will be no problem at all! They taste like dried anchovies 😛

    1. I am not entirely sure although from my readings, I think Southeast Asians already have the taste for insects–and the ability to eat them helped them survive the horrors of the Pol Pot regime.

  3. My first reaction upon seeing this was to get grossed out. I have heard of these but never tried them nor saw them in this much detail. But you gave an interesting background about how this came about because of necessity, which made me understand this practice. Makes me realize that one must know the story before making judgement.

  4. i can’t even imagine eating human flesh, I can’t even eat animals (ok I eat fish)!! I have to say I’ve never learned about Cambodian history or the genocide surrounding the country but it was interesting to read how they came about eating insects. In the UK we aren’t taught much about south Asian history unless it involves the UK or USA which is unfortunate.. I can’t say I will be eating some creepy crawlies anytime soon.

  5. At first I would say …yuck , of course under these circumstances you are writing about , I think I aswell would ear anything . Isn’t that aswell our natural born instinct ? To survive ? But still , as long as I can buy my pork chops or t-bone steaks , I’ll stick with that . A very interesting post indeed , thanks for sharing !

  6. Oh my. I can’t put those insects in my mouth. But I liked it that you shared the story behind it. It made the post very informative. I just can’t imagine how hard it is for them during those times. But I think I’d prefer to eat insects than human flesh.

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