You have to understand, I have a thing about spiders. Iâ€™ve become much better with age. I no longer scream at a daddy long legs in the bathroom. I even admire the fist-sized monsters of an Asian jungle, and I neve intentionally kill them â€“ not as I did in my childhood when all I wanted was to squash any and every creepy leggy thing out of existence.
But furry spiders on my plate? Deep-fried tarantulas doused in pepper-lime?
Spiders at Romdeng Restaurant. (Photo courtesy of Andy Bronson)
There they were, on the table before us at Romdeng. This was the dinner I had offered, for a superb cause, and this was the dish my dear guest, Yvonne, and our Oregon buddy, Andy, had talked me into ordering.
Deep-fried spiders â€“ a dish for which the town of Skuon is famous. One of those dishes foreigners love to belabor, fixating on the exotic and weird. Yvonne â€“ a French woman who studied in America, now lives in Japan and came to visit her Cambodian Chinese relatives on the outskirts of Phnom Penh â€“ had long heard of this delicacy but never tried it. None of us at the table had eaten spiders before, so why not? Yvonne didnâ€™t expect them to be so big, and I simply couldnâ€™t believe I was lifting the hairy leg of an arachnid to my lips. Andy, who has a peculiar description for everything, decided: crunchy paper straw. â€œItâ€™s flexible, that you can eat it, and itâ€™s chewy, but it still has that hard paper feel. But that very lime and pepper flavor (from the sauce).â€
Well said, Andy.
Andy, Yvonne and spider legs.
Alas, much more arrived at the table: banana flower salad with pork fat, three types of prahok (Andy could shove a whole spider body into his mouth but prahok he couldnâ€™t do), fish and eggplant dip, pork and taro springrolls, fish stew with tomato and galangal, sweet rice-flour dumplings for dessert and two orders of mango with sticky rice.
And: fine conversation with Yvonne, who studies language development among youngsters, a topic which led to lengthy talk on speech and thought processes under the large umbrella of culture.
Thank you, Yvonne, for a lovely night out. My apologies to your relatives for keeping you out so late. And my apologies to the gracious Romdeng staff, as we shut down the restaurant well beyond closing time.
After dinner at the Romdeng entrance