Bugs and Blessings

Grilled Beetles - Battambang, Cambodia
Grilled beetles for an afternoon snack in Battambang, Cambodia.

First the Bugs

Curious, Dan struck up a conversation with a table of people enjoying their late afternoon snack of bugs and sugar cane juice near the river in Battambang. After inviting us to sit with them, he received a proper – and unexpected – lesson in art of bug eating. Step 1: remove the wings and legs. Step 2: pop them into his mouth, Step 3: chew a long, long while, Step 4: chase them with a healthy gulp of sugar cane juice. Step 5: Pray your digestive system approves of this curious new protein.

The large brown palmetto bugs (not shown…but we could) were crunchy, virtually meatless – like eating a bag of anise-soaked shrimp shells. The black bugs (pictured above), called roaches by the Cambodians, were in fact a bit meatier and tastier. These were Dan’s bug of choice.

Our newly acquired Cambodian friends (a man in his 30s, his cousin, and their uncle) had a great laugh. And we, having earned some street credibility, we were invited to their house in a nearby village. They wanted us to meet their relatives visiting from California (many Cambodians emigrated to the US in 1979-1980) and their Cambodian cousin from Siem Reap, who had just been married earlier that week.

After we arrived and met the family, the groom quickly and graciously invited us to his wedding blessing ceremony the next morning.

Then the Buddhist Blessing

Elders Praying - Battambang, Cambodia
Smoking and Praying at the Wedding Blessing

Seaq Bo picked us up the next morning and took us for some breakfast soup with his uncle before joining the blessing ceremony back at the village house. The actual wedding had taken place two days before, but the blessing ceremony is required to make the union complete. In this ceremony, local monks lead prayers and chants that were broadcast throughout the village with a hefty sound system. Older folks prayed downstairs in the open air while the younger and more agile made the climb to an upstairs apartment to join the monks on wooden floors.

After about an hour, four other monks arrived on the backs of motorbikes. They handed empty metal containers to the women before going joining their fellow chanters upstairs. The women of the family flitted around the kitchen assembling soup, fish, chicken, noodle salad in a multi-course, multi-layered feast that all miraculously fit in the monks’ food containers.

Cambodian Wedding Feasting

After the monks finished their blessings and rode off back to the temple, bowls and piles of food were quick to the table. The food was fantastic. Our favorite was the grilled fish with bits of green and ripened mango salsa – tangy, spicy and refreshing. Sour soups and curry completed the table. As is custom, we ate until we were stuffed, but made some room for the finishing touch – mango and sticky rice treats.

Friends - Battambang, Cambodia
Fit for a Feast

On the right is Seaq Bo, the one who taught Dan how to properly eat a bug. On the left is his uncle, who absolutely adored Dan. The woman to Audrey’s right translated for him, saying “My grandfather wants me to tell you that he really likes you. He thinks of you as a son.

A Karaoke Finish

Just as we fell into our food comas, the karaoke sound system fired up and emotional duets were belted out by various family members. The groom confirmed for us the obvious, “Asians LOVE karaoke!”


Photo Essay: Battambang, Cambodia and Village Life

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  1. says

    Eating bugs in Cambodia is one of my all time favorite travel memories.

    I had the crispy crickets on a stick somewhere near the big lake (name evades me at the moment).

    Doesn’t all food taste better on a stick, roasted over a fire?

  2. says

    Have yet to do the bug thing, but I have great great love for the mango and sticky rice. First had it in Thailand last year and have made it several times since. (The combo of sugar and carb makes it wonderful to eat before long runs.)

  3. says

    Great story! Now I have read how to eat bugs properly….. I don’t think I can do it still…. I think someday I have to try it when I’m in those parts of the world, but I still can’t picture it in my mind. And I’m also curious why some people like it (they actually like it, right? Or not?)

  4. says

    @Joe: Love mango and sticky rice. It’s the ambrosia of SE Asia.

    @Dina: I believe bugs made it into the culinary rotation in Cambodia because — in the past, when economic times were tough — they were a relatively easy source of protein. So, survival enabled Cambodians to develop a taste for them. Nowadays, they are snacks and people seem to eat them like popcorn or potato chips.

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