A piece published in The Phnom Penh Post this week that saw me dutifully munching on crickets, scorpions and tarantula in the name of research:
A house special: scorpion & green papaya salad
It’s not every morning one gets to chow down on crickets, silk worms and tarantula – and all before 11am. But it was bugs for breakfast when Insider visited the new Bugs Café, which opens tonight.
The Asian fusion eaterie specialises in ‘insect tapas’ presented in a non-threatening way.
Co-owner Marjolaine Blouzard, former operations manager at Casa Angkor Hotel, conceived the idea along with her cousin Davy after multiple requests from adventurous tourists seeking insect fare.
“I’ve lived in Asia for a long time and I’ve seen insects being eaten, especially in Thailand, and I’ve always really liked them. They have a really good taste especially if you cook them nicely,” she says.
“A few times I had customers coming into the hotel asking where they could eat insects. I told them they can find them in the street but they’d ask if there was a special place, like a restaurant.”
Blouzard says often the tourists were concerned about sanitary aspects – how long the insects had been out on the stalls, the cooking method and so on.
“So I thought why not try to cook something interesting with insects because we have many different flavours we can use, and also many people travelling in Cambodia would like to try it,” she says.
Billing itself as an ‘insect tapas and cocktail bar,’ Bugs Café serves everything from feta and tarantula samosas to Mediterranean feuilletés with ants, as well as dishes where the critters are more obviously on display.
“We have things like savoury cupcakes and Danish pastries with insects inside – it’s less scary, it’s a European taste, done with pesto and parmesan,” Marjolaine says.
Some other dishes are done in a more Asian way, such as wok-fried. Some dishes really feature the insect visually, while the bugs are sort of hidden in other dishes “so it’s more acceptable for people who are scared,” Marjolaine adds.
As a life-long hater of creepy crawlies, Insider is relieved to be eased in gently – we start off with a light salad of guava, parmesan slices, salad and flying ants served with honey vinaigrette. It is zingy and refreshing – the ants taste a little like apples, with a nutty flavour.
More daunting is the scorpion and green papaya salad – there is no getting away from it: those are definitely three shiny black scorpions perched jauntily on a bed of leaves.
“We take the sting out,” Marjolaine reassures me, before I gingerly tuck in.
The scorpions are surprisingly palatable, marinated in honey, ginger and lime juice then pan-fried – “like it was a langoustine,” says Marjolaine.
But a tasting plate, however, presents me with a tarantula doughnut, and again there is no avoiding the clear arachnid shape. I have to admit it’s not my favourite – perhaps my brain just can’t deal with eating a spider – but I am encouraged to find the wok-fried crickets and silkworms pretty tasty, the crickets not unlike a prawn in flavour.
The wok-fried insects are available with a choice of seasonings; ours are done Mediterranean-style with olive oil, garlic, parmesan, parsley and cashew nuts.
Recipes were devised from research and experimenting with flavours, Marjolaine says, along with input from head chef Seiha Soeun who used to work at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra – although cooking insects was a first for him.
“For my part, in France I used to run commercial centres,” says Davy. “I worked on many shop openings, especially restaurants, and had the opportunity to see many new restaurant concepts, mixing different ways of cooking.
He says that, for example, in the ant salad, there is parmesan, green salad and the ants which taste a bit sour like a green apple. “So with the seasoning it works well – it’s very light and fresh,” he says.
“All insects have a particular consistency, texture and taste, and we try to imagine what would fit with that. With the crickets, they’re very crispy so they’re very good in a cheesecake for example. We have a cheesecake with passion fruit coulis with crickets inside – the cake is very soft and the crickets are very crunchy – it’s a great combination.
“So far people have been quite surprised because it’s quite unusual to taste insects with ‘real’ cooking. A good presentation makes all the difference – it’s also important that it looks safe.”
Bugs Cafe’s grand opening is tonight from 7pm onwards. Non-buggy options are also available, as well as an extensive cocktail and shake list.