The roasted tarantulas delight tourists in Cambodia, intrigued by this local culinary curiosity. But they are fewer and fewer in the country, victims of deforestation and hunters supplying the market in fresh spider.
"The a-pings are famous in Cambodia, but are now becoming increasingly rare", laments Chea Voeun, who sells fresh or already cooked tarantulas for twenty years in the market of Skun, a small town 75 kilometers from the capital Phnom Penh
Skun specializes in the zebra tarantula, called " a-ping "in Khmer, which earned him the nickname" city of spiders ". Some tourists come specially from Phnom Penh to visit its market, others make a gastronomic stop on the road to Siem Reap and temples of Angkor.
Australian tourist, Elisabeth Dark, describes "the crispy" of the flesh of the tarantula, whose scientific name is Cyriopagopus albostriatus. These spiders are also present in neighboring Thailand and Burma.
"I ate only the legs of the spider, this is the first time I tasted that, so I was a little afraid," says this tourist, who continued his gastronomic experience with frogs and locusts, also sold on Skun market.
"It's not what I would eat at home, but here I am here is an opportunity to try, "she explains.
The tarantula, often cooked soaked in garlic and salt then grilled in oil, is now sold for almost one euro coin on the market. Skun market. Ten times more expensive than a few years ago.
In question, the rarefaction of the animal, explain the salesmen: the tarantulas are more and more difficult to find in the neighboring jungles of the provinces of Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear
Tarantula is not a threatened species in Cambodia, unlike a leopard, tiger or Asian elephant. But like the whole fauna of this South-East Asian country, it bears the full brunt of the consequences of massive deforestation, which destroys their natural habitat.
"Cambodia is one of the countries of Southeast Asia with the greatest biodiversity ", but" the forest has shrunk by 20% since 1990 ", worries the NGO Fauna & Flora International (FFI): because of the development of plantations, including rubber trees, the illegal cutting of precious woods, often exported to China, but also the construction of roads and the absence of hunting quotas.
– Unregulated hunting –
"In Southeast Asia, it is hunting in the forests rather than destroying the habitat that has the greatest impact on biodiversity, "said Tom Gray, a biologist with the NGO Wildlife Alliance interviewed by AFP.
But for now, Skun sellers are still able to offer hundreds of fresh tarantulas, swarming in huge jute bags, to those who want to cook them themselves or make potions of traditional medicine.
Some traders like Chea Voeun offer tourists the opportunity to learn how to cook them and learn how to capture tarantulas in the surrounding meadows. It is a question of digging a well in the vertical of their underground burrow, recognizable by the spider's web obstructing the entrance.
"The tarantula is famous all over the world for its delicious taste and its medicinal qualities", Chea Voeun says. One can buy on the market decoctions of tarantulas macerated in rice alcohol: popular beliefs lend them the virtues of anti-cough and anti-back pain remedies.
In Cambodia and Thailand, grilled spiders, locusts and scorpions are found, insects being a traditional food in South-East Asia.
And in Cambodia, tarantulas have proved to be a popular source of protein during the Khmer Rouge period, which saw nearly two million Cambodians die, often from malnutrition in refugee camps. work