The road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was long, dusty, and in places completely absent. At Skuon there was an intriguing market beside the road. Here there were fruit stalls and the usual fish sellers but I had come to see something very different. Piled high on a massive dish was a pile of blackened spiders. They were huge.
“Deep fried tarantula,” said Kam, my guide, “It is a delicacy.”
“Where do they find the spiders to cook?,” I asked.
“They find these tarantulas under stones. Then they are drowned in water. After that their teeth are pulled out to get rid of the toxins. Sometimes they are stuffed with peanuts to make them extra crunchy. And then they are fried in a big pot.”
The tarantulas looked huge and quite unpalatable. Legs singed in the heat and charred to a crunchy spidery shape. They looked like something from a Halloween party – only this was for real. It looked as though flakes of garlic had been scattered amongst the spider corpses to add a bit of flavouring. Alongside them were small birds that had also been fried and dishes of crickets that had succumbed to the same fate. I wondered whether to bite a leg, just to tell my friends I had done it. In the meantime the tarantula seller looked across at us, hoping for a sale.
“We do not know how these have been cleaned or how long they have been here,” said Kam. He was clearly wanting to avoid any stomach upsets in the tour bus.
“If you want, I can ask them to cook a live one.” Sure enough, wriggling at the bottom of a white plastic bucket were some tarantulas that had clearly been condemned to the frying pan. Tarantula lady looked hopeful beside her vat of boiling oil.
I hesitated and then thought through what I would really do. The reality was that I was probably likely to just bite the leg and take a photo. So was it justifiable to kill an animal for that? Probably not, even though I don’t like spiders. In the end I left the tarantulas alone in their plastic bucket to live another day.