Fried spider is a snack that is popular in certain regions of Cambodia. The large spiders are placed in oil along with spices and fried until crisp or marinated and deep fried in oil. The taste of the head and legs of the fried spider has been said to be fairly bland; the large abdomen contains a thick, liquid core with a taste that some people find very unpleasant, while others consider it a delicacy. The spiders are either collected from the forest or grown in holes specifically so they are more readily available to cook. Local deforestation has threatened the natural habitat of the spiders, reducing their numbers.
The specific spiders used for frying are called zebra spiders or edible spiders and are known locally as a-ping. They are very large arachnids related to tarantulas, with similar small spine-like hairs covering most of their body. They do have fangs and venom, although the fangs are removed before cooking and the venom is neutralized by the heat of cooking. People who collect the spiders for the cooks risk being bitten and frequently are, causing large, swollen and discolored sores. Pregnant female spiders are particularly coveted because the eggs in their abdomens are thought to provide extra taste and vitamins.
The spiders are prepared for cooking by first having their thorax, or neck area, crushed to kill them. Next, the hard and sharp fangs are removed, although the venom remains in the body. The rest of the body is left intact during the rest of the cooking process.
For some fried spider preparations, a marinade is prepared. This can consist of oil and garlic, although some cooks also add monosodium glutamate (MSG) for extra flavoring. In addition, sugar is sometimes added with the intention of caramelizing the surface. Red food coloring can be added on occasion to turn the fried spider a rich, warm color instead of its natural black-gray color. Other marinades can include powdered soup mixes, onions and ginger.
There are two ways the arachnids can be cooked and still be considered a fried spider. The first method is to cook them in a heavy pan over a fire. The second method is to deep fry them in oil. Both ways of making fried spider are completed when the legs of the spider are crisp and stiff, indicating that the meat inside has been fully cooked and the venom rendered harmless. The longer the spider is cooked, the less mushy the internal organs will be when the abdomen is eaten.
Different people have different descriptions for how a fried spider tastes. The head and legs have been compared to chicken or crab. The abdomen, however, has been described as being both incredibly, addictively flavorful by some, and disgustingly inedible by others. This is partially because of the unusual texture of the liquid inside the abdomen as well as the actual taste, which includes the digestive tract and all of its contents.