We Took Our Toddler to Bugs Cafe in Cambodia

‘He reached for the tarantula and bit off its head’

Jessica Allen
Heated
Published in
5 min readAug 12, 2019

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All photos by Jessica Allen

We weren’t sure how our toddler would take to tarantulas. When it comes to bugs, we prefer to live and let live, as long as they are living somewhere else. Nothing against arachnids, but we don’t generally use insects as ingredients when cooking in our Manhattan apartment. Unless a bug inadvertently falls into the spaghetti or gets smooshed into the peanut butter and jelly, we try to keep these kinds of creatures far, far from our mouths.

And yet here we were — my husband, our 3-year-old, and me — sitting down to dinner at Bugs Cafe, which purports to be the first insect-focused tapas restaurant in Cambodia.

A few streets away, Siem Reap’s Night Market was in full swing. Plucky tourists noshed on bags of fried crickets or scorpions as they browsed the T-shirts and shot glasses for sale. We were not those tourists, and not just because we had a child in tow with little to no need for a shot glass. We were, however, interested in participating in a longstanding culinary tradition in the region.

Eating unusual-to-you ingredients might make for great stories, but we weren’t looking for a great story, or, perhaps more truthfully, not just a story. Like a lot of people, we subscribe to a “when in Rome, eat all the pasta” attitude. Which is ideal (and easy) when you’re in Rome, or drinking port in Portugal, or sampling pupusas in El Salvador. We want our kid to feel the same, and to take big bites wherever we go.

So, one nice spring evening, we took a seat outside of Bugs Cafe, on a minimalist concrete-and-steel patio that mimicked the interior’s white and gray palette. Our server offered a patient, prepared spiel about what we could expect. (We found out later that he was an owner of the restaurant.) No liquids, no squishy stuff, no weird tastes, he explained. No “Survivor” or “Fear Factor” antics. Instead, Bugs Cafe takes seriously the task of turning creepy crawlies into…

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Jessica Allen
Heated
Writer for

I write about food, culture, travel, and New York, where I live. Clips and more: jessallenica.com