Romdeng Restaurant, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Spoiler: we eat spiders)

Posted on
Sep 18, 2014
22
Posted in: Food, Restaurants

Spoiler: We eat spiders. If you do not want to see photos of this, then you may want to read another post. (May I suggest this one? It’s about the best cupcakes I’ve ever had. It’s totally safe and spider-free.)

The outdoor patio at Romdeng.

 

On our last night in Phnom Penh, we had dinner at Romdeng. Nicci had read wonderful things about it. It was a training restaurant, part of Friends International, an organization that provides assistance to marginalized children and their families throughout Asia. The bulk of the staff at Romdeng are former street kids (along with a few of their instructors).

The sun had set, and the steaming heat had tempered slightly, so we sat outside, surrounded by plants and Christmas lights. Someone came by and lit an incense burner at our feet – supposedly it would keep the mosquitoes at bay. The menu featured many traditional rustic dishes – some were familiar (fish amok) and some were not (deep fried tarantulas).

We sipped our drinks (I was quickly becoming addicted to fresh lime soda), and looked over the offerings, in no real hurry to order, or to do much of anything, really. We’d spent the entire day at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. We were tired. Perhaps that partially explains what happened next.

 

Nicci looked me square in the eye and said, “I think we should get the fried tarantulas.”

And I nodded.

“Let’s do it.”

Mind you, Nicci is an arachnophobe. She’d told me as much already. So I was a little bit surprised by her suggestion, but I will absolutely not stand in the way of someone eating their fears. Besides, I sort of wanted to see what they were like.

By the time they arrived at the table, and the reality of the situation set in, my resolve had begun to whither. These were tarantulas. And, dear god, they looked JUST LIKE TARANTULAS. They were not rendered unidentifiable in some sort of thick batter. No. They were large and black and multi-legged and not all that dead looking.

It seemed like they could have just scurried off the plate. Upon closer inspection, I could see tiny hairs still covering them.

But I wanted to put on brave face, so I tentatively tore a leg off, and dipped it into the lime-pepper sauce that accompanied it. I looked up to gauge Nicci’s reaction, and found that she was enthusiastically cutting a tarantula in two. She dipped it in the sauce and popped it in her mouth while I was still nibbling on a meager leg.

Baller.

 

“Holy crap. You’re just going for it,” I said, more to myself than to her. And I realized that if Nicci, who was afraid of spiders, could do it, I could, too.

I grabbed my knife, sawed into the segmented body (I still couldn’t bring myself to pick the whole thing up and put it in my mouth), dipped it in the sauce, and chewed.

And you know what? It was actually pretty darn good. Very similar to fried soft shell crab, though perhaps slightly more offal tasting.

We ate one and a half tarantulas each.

In comparison to that, I suppose our main dishes seem rather uninteresting, but they were lovely nonetheless, so I feel compelled to mention them. I got the fresh river fish with green tamarind and green mango salsa. The tamarind was sour – almost like citrus- and paired nicely with the mild fish (which was similar to trout, I think).

 

 

Nicci got kampot crab, which she said was amazing, but looked far too involved (I was in no mood to work for my food at that point of the day).

 

 

And, of course, we got two desserts. Because we have our priorities straight. A fried sort of coconutty rice ball, with minced sweet peppers inside, and rolled in sesame seeds. It tasted like a strange, quasi-savory cousin to the macaroon.

 

And a warm coconut milk pudding, filled with gelatinous rings of pulp. I suspect that description doesn’t quite sell you on it, but it was warm and comforting. The dessert equivalent of a hug.

This photo does it no favors, either.

 

 

The bill was slightly higher than other restaurants in Phnom Penh, but it was still only about $7 a dish. Besides, it was well worth it, and supported a wonderful organization. It quickly became one of my favorite meals of the trip, and towards the end of our journey, Nicci and I were discussing it once again.

I told her how proud I was that she tried the spiders. She smiled.

“The one thing that went through my head afterwards was that we ate spiders. And later, I thought, ‘We will poop out spiders. That will happen.'”

Honestly, I hadn’t thought of it that way. But Nicci had, and I’ve got to say: I think that makes her all the braver.

Doesn’t it look like he might scurry away? Except that I tore his legs off and ate them.

Leave a Comment

  • lauren

    Do you take a notes when you are out eating/exploring, or soon thereafter? I am always amazed at your poetic descriptions.

    • Christie

      Me, too! Do you take notes? How do you remember all the details?

  • Kate

    The caption on the last picture made me spew out tea. I love your posts. I will totally buy your book.

  • Kristina Cline

    Oh my. Flush and run!

  • “a warm coconut milk pudding, filled with gelatinous rings of pulp”

    I can see a bright future for you as a food writer. And/or spider pooper. (Or is that in the past, now, I suppose?)

  • All levels of wrong.

  • TheOtherLisa

    All of my nopes. All of them.

    Although it might be somewhat amusing for the other guests when I smashed my dinner plate with my shoe.

    Yeah, nope nope nope nope.

  • Maybe it’s only because this post is about spiders which has me feeling creepy crawly, but the more I look at the seasame seed dessert, the more it looks like fried maggots.

    On a happier note, I’m traveling to Cambodia later this year and have read up on some of these restaurants all over the country and can’t wait to try one! (but perhaps without spiders)

  • Love your posts! Love the eat your fears comment– Anxiously waiting on your book. .

    Side note: I’m wondering about the process to catch the spiders..

    Yami

  • Jenny

    I’m with The Other Lisa, above.

    NOPE NOPE NOPE.

    Honestly, all the little hairs on the back of my neck are standing up just from looking at the photo. You are braver women than I.

    NOPE.

  • Sha

    OMG woman. Those things are FURRY!!

    …but as a total arachnophobe I feel strangely touched that you would go to these lengths to make my world a less scary place 🙂

    <3 Sha

  • No. No. Seriously, a thousand times “NO!”. Did I mention—just “NO”—please, Dear God, NO.

    Speaking of poop and tarantulas, the last tarantula I saw was a resident in the most definitely NOT en-suite bathroom in a “hotel” (actually it was a Navy Base) in Leticia, Colombia on the Amazon River in 1974. Excellent way to ensure that nobody spent too much time in the bathroom.

    Aren’t tarantulas poisonous? Did you look it up and find out that deep frying made them not toxic—-I mean more not toxic than the thought of eating a hairy, large spider that looked like a hairy, large spider even after deep frying? I’m afraid I turned down my chance to eat any number of insects at the night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I just wasn’t in the mood for insects and arthropods that particular night. I wasn’t even tempted by the crickets. I admit the thought, “Damn, this would make a great blog post” crossed my mind, but NO, really, NO, NO, NO, there are just some things I will not even do for my craft. “Warm coconut milk pudding, filled with gelatinous rings of pulp”—possibly. Fried tarantulas?—-just not happening. Shudder.

  • Christine

    Stop it! Bring back the cupcakes, please.

  • YIKES – Spiders! I don’t know if I would be brave enough to do it. Maybe after a few beers 🙂

  • Dee

    I applaud your bravery, because I could not, would not even sit with those hairy things in front of me. I’m not petrified of spiders, but I don’t exactly find them appetizing. Then again, crabs kinda look like spiders of the sea…..

  • Ok, I agree with a couple of the other commenters. I actually got a chill and the hairs on my arms and back of my neck stood up looking at the plate of 3 SPIDERS! Lord knows if I was starving to death they would be absolutely delish, but in my safe little overfed world, nope, not gonna happen! Then looking at the sesame seed dessert all I can see is that it is covered in mealy worms! Tired or not, I would not have been eating those dishes!

  • Don’t know if I have the courage to eat a spider. Nice post!

  • You are truly a brave person!
    But i agree with all the “NOPES” here! No no no !!!

  • Respect, girls!

    After this (further) proof of courage I think you and Nicci are ready for The Amazing Race. Would you please apply? If you managed to get in it would be my favourite blogger AND favourite reality show combined!

  • Mariel

    “And, of course, we got two desserts. Because we have our priorities straight.” Preach, girl.

  • haha poop out spiders! love it. Just looking at those photos I don’t know if I could do it but im pretty impressed that you did

  • One way to add some protein to your diet! Think I would prefer the crab though!

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