People often ask me “What do spiders taste like”? Well, first thing is, like most foods: quality matters.
Spider tasting part 1: CHINA
There’s a famous place in Beijing near Wangfujin Dajie(王府井) called Donghuamen (东华门) night market, where you can find lots of strange and unusual food… some I bet you even didn’t know where edible. Part of the market is filled with stalls offering a vast array of foods (ranging from the most common Chinese street food to the let’s say… least common such as starfishes, scorpions, spiders, snakes, silk worms, deep fried ice-cream and so on…). When I was still in high school, I heard that you even could find …rats! Not anymore apparently :(.
So the place as you can guess is a very touristic Spotify! People come and try stuff merely out of curiosity or in order to get the thrill of trying something “exotic”. Well, that’s the best-case scenario. Many times they even barely try or finish the stuff, more interested by taking a nice shot of themselves to show the world how brave they are. Which means that vendors don’t make profit on quantity nor quality. Hence, the crazy prices. I still remember how much that spider cost: 80 RMB (about 9 euros or 12 USD). Outrageous! Since there was no one near the stall we bargained and go it for 60rmb, but still scandalous! Being a food adventurer can be costly.
The spider I had was fried and came on a wooden skewer. I started with what seemed the only and most logic way to process: the legs. Legs were pleasantly crunchy, pretty much like chips. Suddenly… I looked up to realised that by now many tourists had spotted by, staring at me tasting my little spider. Even, taking pictures, encouraging me or whatever… -_-‘ I assumed they might have mistaken me for Scarlett Johansson and ran away from my paparazzi. Those people they didn’t understand anything. We should respect our food always. It’s even truer when it’s something that was alive. Eating something just for the thrill, for fun, that’s entertainment and that, is disrespectful to the food. No matter how silly it might sound to some people, that’s common sense: if you eat some living creature, anything, just don’t make a joke out of it.
After finding some tranquility I got back to my little spider. I first finished half of the legs then bite in the body. It has the shape of a mini egg that is 30% empty the remaining 70% filled with a texture resembling to a firmer version of “pâté”. The skin was quite crunchy since it’ was fried but not particularly thick as I expected. I enjoyed the flavor but it was hard to distinguish as heavy-handed salt and spices were added. I enjoyed my spider and would have gone for another round if it were not so expensive.
Spider tasting part 2: CAMBODIA
When I travel somewhere I always watch Andrew Zimmerman’s show called “Bizarre”. If there is one episode about the country I’m about to visit, it’s a great source of information on the most bizarre food the place has to offer! He always tries everything without prejudice, remarkably open-minded about food, truly respectful of the different cultures and people. I love this guy! Anyway, that’s how I learned that Cambodia is probably the best place on earth to try spider. The city of Skuon remains famous for it’s popular snack: tarantulas. In Cambodia spiders bred in holes in the ground and then captured with a wooden stick. They are wild (should I say “organic”..,? haha), huge and fresh. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to pass by Skuon L. But I was able to get tarantula in Phnom Penh.
These tarantulas were much bigger than the Beijing one: about 7cm vs 5cm in Beijing. That looked good from the start! I had this dish in a restaurant specialised in spiders. It is a fancy gourmet version of the spider that locals eat. Usually you would find hawkers in the streets selling them in wooden baskets. But I wasn’t able to find them.
Now the taste!!!! Once again I started with the legs. They were perfectly crunchy. Since they were much meatier and thicker that the Beijing one, I broke a leg and found meat inside! The meat is very little (think about eating very thin crab legs), white and rather bland by itself. Then came the bodyyyyy. This is obviously the weirdest part and I can understand that the texture would put off a lot of people. But, if you manage not to think about it as a spider and focus on the sensation and the flavor instead, then you can appreciate the delicacy. The body has the consistency of smooth, melting of in the mouth consistency of “pâté”, inside a slightly crunchy body. The main flavor is definitely earthy/nutty and to mix the warm tarantulas with a cold salad just made perfect sense.