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Crunchy critters are tasty traveler's treat

SKUON, Cambodia — This place gives new meaning to the concept of a roadside rest stop. We're talking about Skuon, better known locally in Cambodia as Spiderville.

We're not sure how or why this place started serving up furry arachnids to weary travelers, but now, for anyone traveling National Highway 7, it's a must pause on the journey.

Breaded, deep-fried critters sit in artfully arranged mounds: tarantulas, grasshoppers (large or small), silkworms, waterbugs, tiny neon-orange frogs and also only slightly less exotic displays of grilled quails (with head and beak), petite spotted hard-boiled quail eggs and fruit that ranges from the mundane (oranges) to the not so (durian).

The tarantulas (50 cents apiece) had been breaded and stir-fried to a crisp with garlic and onions. One guidebook claims they are farmed and defanged in a nearby province.

The taste test: "No, no, no," my local friend said emphatically. "You eat it all!"

Um, and the poison?

"That's a problem only if it bites you. Not if you eat it," he swore.

I guess he was right because I chowed down without consequence.

The whole thing comes off like soft-shelled crab, albeit a bit on the hairy side. And the best part? The crunchy, garlicky legs. Honest.

I had a problem with the grasshopper. Though it was green, it reminded me way too much of the palmetto bugs (a kind of huge roach) that I grew up with in south Florida.

The frog had been stuffed with lemon grass, which gave it a wonderful tang. And yes, I tried durian. This is the infamously stinky Asian fruit that in some areas actually is outlawed on public transport. In small amounts, it isn't so stinky, but the taste is overpowering. Frankly, when the air temperature is in the mid-90s, a rich, overly sweet, pudding-like fruit just doesn't work.

Bottom line? The tarantulas have my vote: garlicky, salty, crunchy. Maybe not a bad TV snack.

If you go

Cambodia has two seasons: wet and dry. Avoid the wet season (June-November) at all costs. Many roads, even main ones, are dirt and under construction. The mud can be axle deep.

Cambodia is not far from the equator. With temperatures reaching 100 degrees, it is steamy, especially during the wet season. If you can, stay in hotels with swimming pools.

Don't expect slick organization. This country was taken back to the Stone Age by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Most people over 40 don't even know what year they were born. It's been a slow recovery, but cellphone signals are everywhere.

The U.S. dollar is the main currency. There really is no need to change large amounts of money. But be sure to bring a lot of small bills (ones and fives), and they must be in perfect shape. No one will take any bill if it has the smallest rip. Ask for new, crisp bills at your bank.

Cambodia tourism:

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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