When it comes to insect cuisine in Siem Reap, tarantulas head the list, especially fat, succulent, defanged and deep fried mothers.
Crickets and ants, deemed delectable, come next in the popularity stakes, while silkworms are also popular and highly appreciated as good grub.
But scorpions and giant water bugs don’t fare so well and are a hit only amongst the most ardent and hardened bug devourers.
That’s the insect cuisine gospel, according to Davy Blouzard, and he should know because he’s the manager of Siem Reap’s hip Bugs Café which celebrated its second anniversary on Monday night.
Davy says running Bugs Café hasn’t been easy because despite the glare of publicity in the early days, it took some time for the notion of fine dining a-la-insect to catch on.
“After a difficult first year, we’ve had a much better and encouraging second year,” he says. “But our activity remains dedicated to a niche market. However, figures are satisfying and match our expectations, and even keep improving.
“We’re getting a bit famous because we work on a unique concept, but as I said this is a niche market and we have to struggle to make the whole thing profitable.”
Davy, who used to run shopping malls in France, came to Siem Reap in February 2014, specifically to open the restaurant.
“I wanted to run my own business,” he says. “I asked my cousin who had already been living here for two years if she had a good idea for a business, and she had a great one: an insect restaurant.”
He opened the business together with his cousin, Marjolaine Blouzard, who studied business and hospitality, then travelled the Southeast Asia circuit. She settled in Siem Reap and in 2012 became operations manager of Casa Angkor Hotel.
This is where the bug about insect cuisine germinated because hotel guests often asked where they could buy fresh insects to eat.
Marjolaine resigned from the hotel to help get Bugs Café up and running and while she now works for the travel agency, Asian Trails, all decisions about the café are made by Davy and herself.
Key members of the startup team are still with the café.
“The chef Mr. Seiha Soeun – former chef de partie at Sofitel Phnom Penh – has helped us create the dishes and is still in charge of the kitchen team,” Davy says. “Mr. Tiara Reth, who designed many of our great signature cocktails – Bugs Cafe’s second specialty – still runs the bar. Add two waiters and two cook helpers and the team is complete.”
Cooking the insects is one thing, but catching them is quite another skill and Bugs Café has established permanent supply lines for all of its insect supplies.
“We mainly work with freelancers and villagers who primarily hunted insects for themselves or to sell as snacks in the countryside,” Davy says. “Some are also organized as cooperatives and sell insects in Thailand or China.
“Most of our suppliers live around Siem Reap but depending on the insects, some can be located further, all around Cambodia. Note that we only work with people in Cambodia, not abroad.”
Due to its funky design and cool, Night Market street location – not to mention its innovative cocktail list – Bugs also caters for expats who like to hang out and chill.
“Many expats appreciate being away from Pub Street’s noise and bustle,” Davy says. “They enjoy places where they can listen to different music and be welcomed by owners and waiters who know their name and have fun with them.
“We never mistake people for wallets here, and it’s the same with our closest neighbors, the Yokohama and the World Bar. And our cocktails are great, but I said that already.”
Deep-fried Tranatula, one of the signature dishes at Bugs Café. Supplied