Deep fried Tarantula with pepper sauce!  Yum!  This was something new.  I had to try it.  But it was still a shock when four large black spiders arrived on my plate.  Cambodians love them, crunching them whole like crisps.  I tried a leg. It was all crackle and no taste, but the pepper sauce tasted delicious.  Nothing ventured …..,  I took the body of the arachnid, dipped it in generous quantities of pepper sauce and popped it in my mouth. The meat tasted quite sweet, almost like crab, and I was almost able to forget what I was eating.  Nobody offered to join me in my spiderfest, so still smiling, I crunched and swallowed three more!

Romdeng restaurant is situated in an old French colonial mansion in the centre of Phnom Penh and staffed by street children. It was opened n 2005 by Friends International, offering students the skills to open their own businesses, while recovering the skills of Cambodian cuisine lost during the hegemony of the Khmer Rouge.    

 In Cambodia,  many children end up living on the streets because of poverty, or domestic violence or increasingly the loss or one or more parents to AIDS.  They do what they can to survive but the conditions in which they live are very dangerous.  Thirty per cent of prostitutes in Phnom Penh are between the ages of 12 and 17.  Drugs are also a problem for street children with children as young as 6 sniffing glue to escape their dreadful reality.  Friends-International offers these children an alternative to life on the streets, providing medical care, food and creating innovative and exciting opportunities to build their futures.  The children in Romdeng were polite and efficient; the food delicious; the concept inspirational. 

The next course was safer;  Fish Amok in banana leaves.  This is local fish from the mighty Mekong (apologies to Dan Dare and The Eagle), steamed in a rich creamy sauce of spices and coconut milk, and presented in little containers contructed from banana leaves pinned together with slivers of wood.  This was followed by sticky rice and mango basted with caramelised palm syrup. 

It was the nicest meal we had in Cambodia.  Later Alex told me that I hadn’t really sampled Cambodian cuisine until I had tasted poung tai;  fertilised duck eggs cooked just before the duckling starts to hatch. The body parts including the emerging feathers and beak are still soft and encased in a creamy yolk.  That was a delight I did not try.  It was just the thought of it!