It’s cricket season once again in Kompong Thom town, Cambodia’s cricket capital, but officials are warning that this season’s haul of the six-legged delicacy could be nothing to chirp about.
This year’s cricket catch could be even less than last year’s total of 30 tons, which was a dramatic drop from the 50 tons caught in 2002, said Ou Dossphaon, deputy director for the provincial Department of Agriculture.
From the first of the heavy rains in late May until December, Kompong Thom town is aglow with hundreds of ultraviolet lights that cricket-catchers use to attract the insects.
Ou Dossphaon said a single family can net up to 20 kg per night. Middlemen purchase the bugs for $0.50 to $0.75 per kilogram and package them in ice for transport to markets in Phnom Penh and Poipet, where many are shipped across the border for sale in Thailand, Ou Dossphaon said.
The crickets, which flourish in the watery soil of the Tonle Sap, have declined in recent years because of drought, Ou Dossphaon said. However, Kompong Thom province has retained its title as the country’s leading exporter of crickets, which can sell for as little as $1.25 for a heaping platter in the small local restaurants in Kompong Thom town to up to $4 for a small plate in tourist-friendly restaurants in Siem Reap town.
The bugs can be found in smaller numbers in Kompong Cham, Battambang and Siem Reap provinces.
Though he is not a personal fan of the treat, Seng Chhoeurth, deputy director of the Battambang agriculture department, said that the salted and fried variety of the insect is popular with locals.
“Some villagers like crickets as a snack with palm wine,” he said.
At Phnom Penh’s Phsar Thmei Thursday, cricket vendor Srey Mao, 30, said her business was jumping. She sells up to 2,000 large crickets and as many as 7 kg of small crickets per day to customers that include Cambodians and foreigners, she said.
“I think the crickets could help increase the beauty of Phsar Thmei, to attract foreigner shoppers,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Heng Chivoan)