Creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes are being offered up at the Bugs Cafe. Writer Ellie Dyer and photographer Anna Clare Spelman find out more.
In George Orwell’s famous book Animal Farm, it was a case of “four legs good, two legs bad”. But in the modern world, judging by the innovative work of Bugs Cafe in Siem, six and eight legs might be the way forward.
Tarantula donuts, scorpion papaya salads and Mediterranean ant feuilletés are just some of the inventive dishes on offer at the eatery, set up by charismatic French cousins Marjolaine and Davy Blouzard.
While working in the city’s hospitality industry, Marjolaine had often been asked where tourists could try the Kingdom’s famous fried bugs. With options limited, a novel idea was sparked: to offer the insects traditionally eaten in Cambodia in a restaurant environment.
Before opening in July, the cousins hit the road. “We spent quite a long time travelling all around Cambodia to find the suppliers and try all the insects that are commonly eaten here,” says Davy, detailing the trip that took in the spider-centre of Skoun, Kulen Mountain and Battambang.
After linking up with talented chef Seiha Soeun and developing an insect-centric menu, Bugs Cafe was born. It has been attracting excitable patrons ever since.
“They scream, they laugh – it’s so good,” says Davy, talking AsiaLIFE through the café’s ‘discovery platter’ ($14 small/$25 large), while emphasising all bugs are fresh – most are taken to the restaurant live – and any unappetising parts are removed.
As well as using the traditional method of frying insects – in this case larger bugs are marinated in ginger, lime and honey beforehand – the restaurant has experimented with diverse cultures and flavours.
The platter can include soft silkworms with garlic, parsley, Parmesan and cashew nuts, and the tarantula donut – featuring a large arachnid encased in a tempura-like batter, paired with mango chutney. Spiders are also served in crispy samosas stuffed with feta, while citrusy flying ants add zing to the ‘wild spring rolls’.
Nailing down the flavour of insects can be tricky, and even the Blouzards admit that everyone compares them to something different. Scorpions have been said to taste like crab and liver.
However, the clever flavour combinations and immaculate presentation ensure the creatures are appetising. For dessert, caramalised insects can even be dipped in a chocolate fondue ($7), while diners can take home a packet of the café’s bug-laden cookies.
Yet underpinning the concept is the fact that embracing protein-rich insects, which some experts believe can help to counter global nutrition insecurity, might benefit us all.
Davy says, “I’m not an extremist, I don’t think its going to replace beef or pork – and I love beef and I love pork – but if we can manage to help people make the psychological step to try something else and change their habits just a bit, it’s a good thing.”