In the Yukon, we have wild meat. In Vietnam and Cambodia, they also make the most of wild game.
I wandered into a pharmacy in Saigonand saw snake and cobra venom remedies (venom cobratoxan). I’m not sure about what the cobra stuff is used for, but from what I’ve read, the snake venom is an anti-wrinkle cream—nothing like venom on your face!
A fish massage/pedicure is also a thing. I’ve watched many people stick their feet into a huge tank for a “Dr. Fish treatment” with two species of fish: garra rufa and cyprinion macrostomus (nicknames include nibble fish, kangal fish and physio fish).
The fish have no teeth and nibble the dead flesh from peoples’ feet. Patients laugh hysterically because it tickles so much. I really wanted to try it, but I never got the chance. If I see it again, I will.
Meanwhile, I did try the wild when it appeared at the dinner table.
My friends, Sam and Kimsan, took me to a traditional Khmer restaurant in Siem Reap. I asked Sam to take me to where he would go eat with his Cambodian friends—the restaurant was packed. I tried wild, roasted eel, roasted frog, and a cricket.
At night, even in the countryside, florescent signs are everywhere. Crickets and other bugs, which are attracted to the light, hit the plastic signs and fall into basins of water underneath.
Fried, the single cricket I tried was crunchy, like a chip.
The frog was very boney, so it didn’t seem worth the trouble, but it was good—it tasted like chicken.
The eels, I am told, go crazy when it rains heavily. You will see them everywhere on the ground, slithering around.
I would eat both eel and frog again if I were in Cambodia, and if I were introducing the experience to someone new—I enjoyed both dishes.
“I did not try grilled squid on a stick, but I did eat squid, and it was delicious.” Credit: PHOTOS: Rebecca Hogarth
Another delicacy is tarantula, although I never got to try it. It is usually fried, and I would have tried a leg, at least.
Organs are also a menu item. My friendShrey, a local from Phnom Penh, made us lunch at her friend’s house. I was enjoying my beef, done in a sauce and laid on a bed of lettuce encircled by cucumbers and tomatoes, and a delicious vegetable curry, (the display is always gorgeous), and then there was a plate of organs.
Served room-temperature and laid out, there was stomach (I could see a tube-like thing that appeared to be the entry to the stomach), along with many other things I did not recognize.
I only tried the liver, and it was not bad.
In the south of Cambodia, my friend Anne-Marie ordered a “whole fish”. Well, it was whole alright—teeth and all. She was horrified, however I did not know that until later. Being a sport, she ate around the head. I also did not eat the head.
Locals find it really funny that travellers cringe at some of the foods they eat. I didn’t get sick from any of the food I’ve mentioned, but there have been moments. One night I had seafood—squid, crab, etc.— and wow, I was sick that night and next day. It could have been anything, though, maybe even the water from brushing my teeth.
In Sihanoukville, in south of Cambodia, we sat on the beach and the drink menu was hysterical and very vulgar. Beer seems to be the big thing. I hardly drink, but Anne-Marie did all the drinking: Angkor and Anchor beer.
I noticed there was water or ice cubes in the ashtrays. (Maybe so the ash doesn’t blow away?)
I go to the markets frequently. While the smells can be overwhelming, it is so interesting. There is dried fish of all sorts. I wish I had a better food guide, as I love trying new things.
I always buy mango and rambutans (similar to a lychee, it is red and hairy, and clear, juicy fruit), as they are easy to eat on the go.
The fruit is very tasty (I am convinced Canadians don’t know real fruit). The dragon fruit has an amazing zing, and I regularly have papaya shakes with no added sugar or milk—a fruit I never liked in Canada.
Mangosteen (a purple fruit that resembles a tomato with a green top) is a new favourite. The inside of a mangosteen is white, with few seeds that are edible and a little crunchy. And I eat jackfruit chips all the time.
Whenever I am away, I always end up eating really healthy. I love rice and veggies, and there is plenty, and an abundance of seafood and fruit.
My new food experiences have been healthy for me too. I acknowledge that some people have issues with eating different animals, but the truth is, a lot of villagers in Cambodia still eat dog. It’s hard to comprehend, but I chose not to judge.
I am surprised I haven’t seen rat on a menu. (I have, however, seen roasted bee.) Big rats are always around, and though I do not mind them, having one get confused about his direction and running into my foot did make me jump.
Rebecca Hogarth has been a resident of Dawson City since 2007. She feels the energy of the Yukon and the encouraging people within allow her to shine in so many ways.