As far as arachnophobes are concerned, nothing could be more unpleasant than eating a tarantula, no matter how long the creature is cooked or deep fried. Even those who keep pet tarantulas are probably taken aback by the idea of eating one as though it were a common snack. However, some tarantula species are considered great for eating in certain countries, including Mexico, Venezuela and Asia. When it comes to Asia, nobody in the region shows a greater enthusiasm for edible tarantulas than the people of Cambodia. In this country, western tourists often buy edible insects and arachnids from street vendors in order to snap a Facebook photo of themselves eating a scary-looking bug. But most native Cambodians do not eat the insects and arachnids they sell on the streets, except for the tarantulas, of course.

Many common tarantula species in Cambodia are considered delicacies, therefore, cooked tarantulas can be too expensive for many natives to afford. However, the cultural practice of cooking and eating tarantulas in Cambodia did not originate with natives capturing and eating the spiders for fun; instead, the practice originated out of necessity. During a long-running famine in Cambodia several decades ago, citizens took to eating whichever wild animals they could find in order to survive, including tarantulas. Unlike rats and other common forms of wildlife, the tarantulas tasted good to Cambodians, especially after being cooked properly.

During the 1970s, the authoritarian Khmer Rouge regime tanked the country’s economy, making it difficult, or impossible, for citizens to secure typical food products. The resultant mass starvation led people to hunt, cook and eat just about every wild organisms that moved. While the Khmer Rouge regime will always be remembered as the darkest period in Cambodia’s history, at least it allowed Cambodian’s to discover their taste for scorpions, silkworms, grasshoppers, and most notably, tarantulas. Today, the popularity of edible tarantulas within Cambodia and nearby regions has provided a lasting stimulus to the country’s economy.

Would you be willing to try a fried tarantula while visiting Cambodia?