April 15, 2011
Siem Reap, Cambodia
As I travel around the world I eat a lot of interesting crap. So far on this current Lexpedition I have tested the boundaries of my palate, karma and gag reflexes by eating dog, goat dick, pig valve, frogs, crickets, grasshoppers, massive flying roaches, buffalo, and beef tongue.
People sometimes ask me what is the weirdest thing I have ever eaten. That’s a tough question to answer. I would say that the nastiest taste in my mouth was after eating cold dog in Hanoi (see my prior post if you missed it.)
My tongue and mojo were wrecked for days after that horrendous culinary misstep. I am not sure if I would ever try that again. I know, never say never.
When I was in Fez, Morocco with Ken and Max in 1990, I ate sheep brains. Not just any sheep brains, mind you… I ate sheep brains from an unrefrigerated street cart that was sitting in the hot afternoon desert sun. Somehow, I got very sick (imagine that!)
When we got back to Madrid a few days later, I remember having some kind of crazy intestinal bug that would not go away. I finally had to go see a doctor and get proper treatment. The bug lasted about 2 weeks, in total. But I learned a very important lesson… If you’re gonna eat sheep brains in Morocco, find a vendor in the shade. Don’t roll the dice with sheep brains, my friends.
When I was here in Siem Reap almost exactly 4 years ago, I spent a day exploring Angkor Wat and the other amazing temples and ruins just outside this city. I was with two Scandinavian guys who were staying at my hotel. It was St. Patrick’s Day (2007), so we celebrated a great day of temples and ruins by buying an assortment of critters including Godzilla roaches, crickets, beetles, grasshoppers and small frogs. We found a table at Molly Malone’s here on Pub Street, ordered a round of Guiness and had a little critter fest.
These vittles were all deep fried, and most had soy sauce overtones. The locals who were working at Molly Malone’s showed us how to pinch the heads, wings and spiky parts off the beetles and roaches. We shared with them. The beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and frogs were relatively easy to choke down. It was the massive flying roaches that caused us all some grief.
To be clear, these weren’t wimpy roaches that you can step on in the shower. These bad boys had wings. These are the kind of roaches that really freak most people out. About as long as my thumb. Long legs. Big wings. Flying around the room like they own the place. Yes, that kind of roach! Nasty to look at. Even harder to eat.
I still remember that night in 2007 when I ate Mr. Crunchy. Directions: Pinch off the head. Tear off wing #1. Then wing #2. Then tear off the big legs. Then toss into your mouth. Cruch. Pop. Swallow. Pretty straight forward.
In reality it’s not that easy. The three of us prepped the roaches, took a swig of beer, tapped our roaches together like we were making a toast, said ‘bottoms up!’ and ‘Bon Appetit’ and then tossed them into our mouths. Yuck!
But that’s the easy part… Now you got to chew, pop, swallow. Remember that gum called ‘Freshen-Up’ in the 1980’s that had a liquid center that popped open when you chewed it? Yum yum yum!
Well, Mr. Crunchy was just like that gum. Only roachier. No pleasant aftertaste. No minty fresh breath. Just a nasty flavor explosion. Choking it down was a chore too, but somehow we managed.
Well, almost exactly 4 years later, in Siem Reap, on Pub Street, we did it again. (It’s deja vu all over again… all over again.) This time I was with Carley and Carla from Canada. We snagged a bag of critters from a street vendor and headed to a pub on Pub Street (hence the name.) This was their first vermin fest, so I had to show them the ropes. Unfortunately the vendor was all out of deep-fried Tarantulas, so that will have to wait for another time. Sorry ladies!
You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run. So we started off with some beetles, crickets and baby frogs. Training wheels before we hopped on the Flying Roach Express. No problem. The girls were troopers. After a few minutes of the lesser critters, it was time for the big leagues.
We each pulled the head, wings and legs off our massive disgusting roaches, made a roach toast, and then got down to business. Carley and Carla made quick work of their roach steaks. Then they started giving me a bunch of crap about not eating mine. They called me a ‘roach wuss.’ I told them I was going to, I was just very gun-shy.
My mind said yes, but my body said no. This wasn’t my first Roach Rodeo. I remember sticking my finger into an electric socket when I was a kid and getting shocked like crazy. After that, I never put my finger back in a socket. Lesson learned. If you gave me $1,000 today to stick my finger in a socket again, I seriously doubt I could do it. My wallet says ‘yes.’ My central nervous systems says ‘no.’ Sorry wallet, but the body has veto powers.
So again I was trying to stick my finger in a massive socket called Mr. Crunchy. Finally, after being cajoled and ridiculed by two really cute and brave Canadian girls, I took the big vermin plunge. Bite. Pop. Gag. Choke. Swallow. Beer.
I did it! No puking! No crying. Tasted like crap, but I did it! And I didn’t go blind…. Wahoooooo! I’m a big boy now!
Flashback to Laos a few months ago. I was in Muong Long, up in the Northwest corner of the country near the borders with China and Burma. I was hanging out with some locals, who worked for the Laos Tourist Office and were organizing our upcoming 3-day trek through the jungles and tribal villages.
They invited me to their house to watch them kill, skin, cook and prepare two adult goats. They were getting ready for a major festival the next day, and they had a lot of work to do. I gratefully accepted their invitation. How could I refuse?
Over the years of traveling, I have probably seen several hundred animals killed and processed. In fact, at a funeral celebration in the Toraja region of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia in 2007, I watched as more than one hundred pigs, horses, goats, hogs, water buffalo and cows were slaughtered, processed and cooked. The Toraja funeral celebration was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my travels so far. It was like watching the Apocalypse, and my nerves were fried for days. But what an experience!
So back to the backyard Laos goat night… I watched as the three men transformed Goat #1 into a variety of meat and blood dishes. They had a big fire in the backyard, where they were cooking the various dishes and cuts. Occasionally they would pull some meat off the grill and sit down with me for a quick snack.
It was a boy goat. How do I know? Because we ate his balls. My host kept giving me meat to try. For the most part it was very tasty and fresh. He gave me another piece. I started to eat it. Long and skinny piece of meat. Mostly bony. Not particularly my kind of snack. I asked him what it was. He said, ‘goat dick’ and started laughing with his buddies. Oh well. (reminder – I’m not gay. That’s not the point here. Let’s move on.)
(Flashback – typical Friday night conversation back home)
Me: “Hey, I’m starving. Let’s go get some food.”
Imaginary Girlfriend: “OK. What are you in the mood for? Indian? Sushi? Italian? Viking Food? Pizza?”
Me: “Actually, I’ve been craving goat balls and goat dick.”
Imaginary Girlfriend: “You read my mind you handsome devil. I know a place that serves terrific goat balls AND goat dick. And they have the freshest goat blood salad in town. Let’s go!”
Me: “OK, I’ll get my imaginary car.”
You would think by now I would have a solid steel stomach. Luckily I have not been sick on this trip (fingers crossed.) But I have had more than my fair share of dysentery and tummy troubles over the years. I had very bad ‘Bali Belly’ in Indonesia several times. ‘Delhi Belly’ struck me many times in India (go figure.) Jenny and I got very sick in India together in Bharatpur, a few days after we were at the Taj Mahal. We were VERY sick. That sickness stayed with us through Rajastan, Oman, Dubai and well into Egypt. I was sick for well over a week. Jenny was sick for over two. VERY sick. Finally the antibiotics and shots saved us from the terrible stomach issues. Two weeks of being sick… Ouch!
On my first trip to the amazing Himalayas of Ladakh and Spiti in northern India in the summer of 2006, our local bus stopped at a small ‘restaurant’ between Tabo and Kaza. It was time to stretch our legs and get a bite to eat. I walked in and sat down. If you ever saw that ‘Matrix’ movie where Neo slows down time as they are shooting bullets at him in a hallway, that’s how I felt when I looked around. There were at least 1,000 flies on the walls, cielings and tables. Flies everywhere. Time stood still.
All I could think about was freezing time like Keanu Reaves did, when he was picking bullets out of the slow-motion air. I wanted to freeze time and walk around the restaurant and count the flies. I am sure there were at least 1,000. Amazing! I know this will sound crazy, but the food was fantastic. I did not get sick. My suggestion if you eat there is… eat quickly and keep swatting. Pay your bill and get back on the bus. Bon appetit! (FYI – I only ate there twice.)
If you walked into a small restaurant in your town back home, and there was a fly buzzing around you, I believe you, like most people, would probably notice. Would you get upset and leave? Would you kill it? Would you tell the manager? Now what if there were 100 flies buzzing around while you were eating? Could you hang in there and finish your meal? What if there were 500 flies? 1,000? Would you leave a big tip?
OK, here are some photos. I have tried to arrange them in chronological order, starting with some from my first trip to the Himalayas in 2006.
Some of them may be gross. But I will not show any pictures of animals being butchered or slaughtered. Click on any of the pictures to see the larger versions in a sideshow format.
Here are two Holy Men that ate with me in the fly-infested restaurant near Tabo in the Spiti Valley of India. Our local bus is right behind them, and the restaurant is behind the bus (sorry – flies not visible from this distance.)
Here I am chilling with a Holy Man outside the restaurant, with the Himalayas in the background (that’s me on the right.) I will be back in those majestic mountains in about 6 weeks… Waaaaaahooooooooo!
This majestic beast, a massive water buffalo, was tied to a tree at the funeral celebration in Toraja on Sulawesi Island (Indonesia.) It was awaiting its imminent death, as were every single other animal you can see in this photo. I saw quite a few of them meet their maker that day. Wow, what a bizarre spectacle that was!
These pigs were just lying around, tied to bamboo stakes, waiting to become tasty bacon and tenderloin. Occasionally they would start struggling and screaming in the hot afternoon sun, but to no avail. Each guest brought an animal as a gift to the family of the deceased lady.
One by one the animals were marked with a number and recorded in a book. I saw over 70 pigs/hogs that day, and the number of gifted animals was well over 100. You can see the red ink number on the pig at the bottom of this photo.
At my backyard goat Bar-B-Q in Muong Long, Laos. After killing the goat and using boiling water to loosen the hair from the hide, they scraped off most of the goat’s hair with a small spoon. Then they tied him up in a tree and wrapped him in cardboard boxes. Then they lit him on fire, trying to burn off the remaining hair and germs. I was hoping to make some goat smores, but I had no chocolate or graham crackers. Plus I had to video tape and take pictures.
Goat Man making quick work of Goat #1. His cutting board was a sheet of corrugated roofing sheet metal. You can see the goat head lying in the dirt behind him.
After all the goat’s blood was drained from his neck, the lady of the house stirred the big bowl of blood and salt with her hand. She had to stir it so that it did not harden too quickly. Something like that.
A little while later the bowls of blood salad were ready. Sprinkle with herbs and serve.
A plate of different goat parts and meat. This was before we ate most of it. See if you can find the dick. On the plus side, we had healthy veggies to wash the meat down.
At the festival the next day. There were 7 of us ‘westerners’ getting ready to go on a 3-day trek. We saw only 3 other non-locals all day at the massive festival. It was a lot of fun.
The locals were very hospitable. They would invite us to eat and drink with them all day long. These men were chowing down on pig valves and internal stuff, and they invited me to join them. How can I say ‘no’ to pig valve and some local rice whiskey?
A close-up of some of the pig valves and assorted internal plumbing pieces. Dig in, boys!
Chowing down on a chicken foot at the festival. Tastes like chicken.
On the first night of our 3-day trek in Laos, we stayed with the village chief and his family. The closest town was 6 hours by foot, with absolutely no way in or out in a vehicle.
The sleeping arrangements were very basic, and by that I mean they were horrible. But before we could sleep in this house, they made us dinner. There were two family dogs running around, trying to score some kitchen scraps. The ladies were in the kitchen killing and chopping up two fresh chickens for us.
About half-way through their dinner prep, a local boy came in carrying a dead squirrel by the tail. He had just shot it. He walked in past us, past the curious dogs, and proudly tossed the dead squirrel on the floor at the foot of one of the kitchen ladies. She glanced down, saw the squirrel, and kept chopping chicken.
Squirrel is a delicacy for these people. They ate it. They did not offer us any squirrel. Not sure if I would have tried it… OK, I would have tried it.
About 2 hours later it was time to eat. Here is our feast, with the pesky dirty dog in the background.
At the local market in Muong Long, Laos, we came across these dried rats. We did not eat them. Not sure they are rats, actually. But close enough. Somebody ate them, I’m sure. I like the ‘Hello Kitty’ tablecloth.
I was walking with Pablo (Buenos Aires) and his girlfriend Aranxa (Spain) to go see a cave near Nong Khiaw, Laos. I saw this massive multi-legged critter on the side of the road. I did not eat it. That would be gross!
Here Pablo is acting like he is going to eat the critter. Aranxa was very scared, she kept telling Pablo to stop before it fell off the stick and bit him. I’m sure it was poisonous. I traveled with these two great people for 12 days in Laos, including the 3-day trekking adventure.
Not sure what these animals were at a local market in Laos. I think one was a porcupine. Both were sold and eaten that day, I can assure you. “If you buy both critters today, I’ll throw in this bag of dried mushrooms.”
Not sure what this little guy was, but I did not eat him either.
These next few photos are from a market near Lak Xao, Laos. I was utterly fascinated by the buffalo and beef vendor. She had everything for sale. Blood jello. Eyeballs, Ears. Legs. Hoof. Spinal cord. Stuff like that. Here is the blood jello with the veggie vendors as a backdrop.
I love this one. Meat Lady was walking around barefoot among the eyeballs, entrails and blood. Now, I give a pretty good foot massage. Let’s say Meat Lady was my girlfriend, and she came home from a long day of chopping, selling and stepping in meat. She might ask, “Honey, I had a very rough day today… would you please give me a foot massage?”
“No can do, Sweetie Pie. You have eyeballs in your piggies.”
A man needs to know when to say “no.”
Meat Lady had a good sense of humor, and a beautiful smile. She knew I was fascinated by the meat selection, so she held up an eyeball and other dangling meat for me. Note the spinal cord below the suspended eyeball. This reminded me of one of my favorite song from The Eagles… ‘You Can’t Hide Your Spine and Eyes.’
Here she is holding up 3 eyeballs for my photo. I told you she had a good sense of humor. I really dig her standing barefoot on the meat table. Notice the chunk of meat on her left foot?
This is an action photo… Meat Lady is standing next to Meat Mountain, filling yet another order for her loyal local carnivores. The chunk of meat is still on her left foot.
And what local market would be complete without a few squirrels and dried rats?
Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rat out of my hat… (not again.)
Serving Suggestion: These squirrels go well with nuts. Get it? Nuts?
(wait for laughter to subside and then scroll down)
And who could forget Drunk Dead Snake Man and his badly damaged snake? I guarantee somebody in that Laos village was chowing down on some mangled green snake that night.
These crickets were for sale at a rest stop between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Cambodia.)
Don’t eat those roaches… they’ve got flies on ’em!
Luckily, if roaches and beetles aren’t your bag, you could also score some lotus flower, oranges and tamarind. So many choices. All the food groups are represented here.
At the street vendor’s critter cart a few nights ago in Siem Reap. Beetles, crickets and grasshoppers. Veggies in the background. And of course, massive flying roaches on the right. Look how big those suckers are!
Carley and Carla (both from Canada) and I sitting in our tuk-tuk trying to score some late-night critters. I love drive-up service. We were walking around the night market. It was late. We decided to find some critters. The tuk-tuk driver said all the critter carts were done for the night. Nonsense, I thought. I told him I would give him $5.00 if he could find us some roaches. 8 minutes later we had a big bag of critters in out hands. Money talks, my friends, money talks.
A bag of critters, some cold beer and a big bottle of water. We’re trying to work up the nerve to eat the big boys.
Carley and Carla getting ready with the flying roaches. Note Carley’s mango shake. I think she was a health nut???
Carley puts her roach down. Carla laughs. Pre-game jitters. Nervous energy is normal the first time you put a monster flying roach in your mouth. It’s OK girls… you’re gonna be just fine.
Another curb-side cart here in Siem Reap, right next door to my guest house. Cow tongue, innards, and who knows what else. Say ahhhhhhh…
The next night our friends Erik and Efrain wanted to try some critters. Here we are on Pub Street in Siem Reap examining a new batch of crunchy vittles. That’s Efrain, Carla and Erik from left to right.
The Gang on Pub Street. From left to right… Erik and Tracy from Kansas (currently teaching English in Seoul), me, Ina (Romania), Sam (Norway), Efrain (New Mexico) and Carla (Canada). I met Sam and his girlfriend Helena about 7 weeks ago in Muong Noi Neua. They had just bought a canoe from a local man and rowed for 10 days down the river. We met back up in Siem Reap that night after he read my latest Lexpedition and realized we were both in the same city again. Small world! You can’t see Ina’s boyfriend John (Romania) because Sam’s monster fro is blocking him.
I like the fact Erik has a bald head and a massive Abe Lincoln beard, while Sam has no beard but a huge blonde dreadlock monster on his head. Crazy!
And finally, here are two videos from a few nights ago. My friends and I were just hanging out, minding our own business, eating critters. Pub Street, Siem Reap (Cambodia). I like Sam’s comment half-way through… “I would eat frog again any day.”
Sam coaching the new guys on how to properly eat a roach. It’s always good to have an experienced leader when you are going into roach battle. Sam patiently helps Efrain, Erik and Tracy understand the fine art of preparing the roaches and beetles. Sam advises, “You have to pull off all the legs, because the legs are horrible.” True that, Sam. True that!
At the end I say, “You guys are roach experts now.” I was so proud of my troops. All grown up now and eating roaches and beetles like a local (a tear.)
Please help me with my Country Counter
OK, enough about my culinary exploits. Next week I will be heading back to Bangkok to arrange my visa and flight to Burma, which will be my 47th country. Wahoooo! I know I owe quite a few of you an email or two. I’m trying my best to juggle all my adventures with updating my website and staying in touch. Please be patient.
Thank you for your continued support and love. Now please leave me some funny comments below.
Peace & Love from way over here,
Inventor of Origami
Tony Hawk’s Stunt Double
First Man To Drive Through the Carpal Tunnel