4th of 10: Favorite foods I eat in Cambodia (not all necessarily Cambodian)

As I start my 101 entry, I thought I should do something fun. Inspired by Polly, I have decided to make 10 lists of 10, here is list 4.

  1. Amok- quintessential Cambodian food that I love. Made of white fish (usually catfish) in a red curry, coconut milk, and egg. Steamed in a banana boat or 1/2 a coconut.
  2. Rambutan- the funniest looking fruit I have ever seen, but also among the tastiest.
  3. Strawberry stuffed French Toast with a Ladybug freezer (watermelon juice with mint and lime) from Java cafe.
  4. Anything from Le Rit’s because it is always yummy (they have a 5 dollar set menu lunch that changes daily but comes with a starter, main meal and dessert (you get a choice from 2 of each).  Also, they are a good organization and cause to support.
  5. Indian food at my colleague’s house.
  6. Fresh juice from Two Fish
  7. Avocado and shrimp salad or Baked goat cheese salad from Elsewhere. Also, best drinks in town (fresh juice with vodka, rum, or gin)
  8. Desserts from Blue Pumpkin in Siem Riep.
  9. Large prawns, pretty much anywhere, but best at Two Dolphins in Sihanokville.
  10. Palm sugar juice (bought for 25 cents on any street corner).
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Cambodian foods

A little more on Cambodia foods– mostly just pictures. Click HERE.

Working on a Sunday

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I am working.  I was working from home, as opposed to spending yet another day in the office, but I decided to come to my friendly local art gallery/ Asian fusion restaurant owned by a very sweet Taiwanese man and his partner.  If you are ever in Phnom Penh, Two Fish is a great place to see new art and have a tasty, if slightly unconventional meal. The artwork being displayed changed last night, which is disappointing because I loved the abstract oil pieces of the last show.

My favorite part of the menu and the reason I came today, however, is the juices.  Some of my favorites include

· Melon (watermelon, lime juice, and fresh mint leaves—no sugar),

· Immune power vegetable (garlic, ginger, coriander, carrot & apple),

· Pineapple ginger ale (ginger root and pineapple),

· Spiced apple (apple juice, root ginger, cinnamon & a banana), and

· Lychee with mint.

Today I start with the Lychee with mint and move on to a new juice (well, new for me), Beet It Liver Cleanser (beetroot, celery, cucumber, and ginger). Although presumably healthy, it tastes a bit too much of celery and a bit to little of ginger for my taste buds. 

The sky was perfectly sunny with amazing fluffy white clouds as I walked over—still hot, although less so, but humid. The rainy season is on it way and I am waiting with barely contained anticipation. I had been sitting here working on my computer for about 20 minutes when I heard the “WOOSH” of the sky opening and the deafening “CLANG” of a dozen tin roofs being tap danced upon.  It does not simply rain here in Cambodia when water is falling from the sky.  In my Midwestern definition of rain, the rain drops must be distinguishable one from another.  Here it is a wall of water that assaults those in its path.  Truly a remarkable sight—and sound. Staccato, lightning displays and low rumbling thunder enter the picture and leave as if they were a small glitch in the mind. Oddly, it is the sound of the rain that I love most—this constant pitch, hum-drum, of rain walls on tin roofs that has almost drowned out the Corinne Bailey record playing in the background. This hum-drum that is somehow peaceful, soothing, lulling.

I’m squishing up a baby bumble bee, won’t my mommy be so proud of me…

Deep fried bees, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Yes folks, I ate deep fried bees while in Japan. I think this is a good first step on my way to eating tarantulas while in Cambodia. I have to say, they were not bad. Mostly, they were just fried and salty and a little squishier than I had expected. Also, it was worth it just to watch Jason gag one down.

 Jason eating a bee

 Clare eating a bee

More about Cambodian Spider eating traditions: (also, visit frizz restaurant where all this information comes from for a wonderful culinary class and their website for all kinds of information and more about spiders as food and wine):

First unearthed by starving Cambodians in the dark days of the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” rule, Skuon’s spiders have transformed from the vital sustenance of desperate refugees into a choice national delicacy.

Black, hairy, and packing vicious, venom-soaked fangs, the burrowing arachnids common to the jungle around this bustling market town do not appear at first sight to be the caviar of Cambodia.

Spider

But for many residents of Skuon, the “a-ping” – as the breed of palm-sized tarantula is known in Khmer – are a source of fame and fortune in an otherwise impoverished farming region.

“On a good day, I can sell between 100 and 200 spiders,” said Tum Neang, a 28-year-old spider-seller who supports her entire family by hawking the creepy-crawlies, deep fried in garlic and salt, to the people who flock to Skuon for a juicy morsel.

At around 300 riel (eight US cents) a spider, the eight-legged snack industry provides a tidy income in a country where around one third of people live below a poverty line of $1 per day.

The dish’s genesis is also a poignant reminder of Cambodia’s bloody past, particularly under the Khmer Rouge, whose brutal four years in power from 1975-1979 left an estimated 1.7 million people dead, many through torture and execution.

For the millions forced at gunpoint into the fields, grubs and insects such as spiders, crickets, wasps and “konteh long” – the giant water beetles found in lakes near the Vietnamese border – were what kept them alive.

“When people fled into the jungle to get away from Pol Pot’s troops, they found these spiders and had to eat them because they were so hungry,” said Sim Yong, a 40-year-old mother of five.

“Then they discovered they were so delicious,” she said.

Sushi

Sometimes when you like a cuisine and then go to the place it is from, you realize that it is not nearly as good at home as the real thing. I can’t say that the Japansese sushi was so much better (admittedly, I only went to cheap sushi place). The best part, however, was the little conveyor belt that the sushi traveled on.

Weapon or tasty treat?

Durian, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

It is my humble opinion that food should never be used as a weapon. It should only hurt us if we accidentally eat too much because it is so yummy and irresistible.

These are durian. Most westerners do not eat them because they can’t get beyond the way they smell. Putrid. In fact, you are not allowed to carry them on the bus with you as the smell disturbs other passengers. They, if eaten, actually quite sweet I am told. Personally, I have yet to eat durian the fruit, although I do like durian flavored cookies (without smell of course).

The fruit, however, does have a darker usage. Aparently, they are used to punish children. You may not be able to tell from the picture, but they are actually quite large, about the size of someone’s head. Teachers have been know to place a durian in the corner and force a misbehaving child to knell on it as punishment. The spikes are quite sharp and will cut the child.

The punishment is akin to old-school catholic nuns rasping the knuckles of a child with a ruler. Only, in this case, I am afraid the child might get a pavlovian response to hate fruit.

Cooking class

Cooking class, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

I am sure this story is much better in person than it is on the computer screen—for one thing, on this end it was edible!

Last weekend I spent a wonderful Saturday not at work—which is the usual routine—but at a Khmer cooking class. Unlike many tourist destinations, finding a Cambodian cooking class is not that easy; although the food itself is quite tasty. But, leave it to Molly (whose son is a chef in London) to find one. A small Khmer restaurant was opened 4 years ago by a barang (foreigner) living here in Phnom Penh. Along with his restaurant, he offers a cooking class 6 days a week. Technically, he does none of the cooking, but leaves that up to the locals. Originally he thought the idea would be a hit with the tourists (which it is); but it also turns out that there are quite a few expatriates who go as well. He only advertises via his website, a few brochures, and word of mouth.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into—but it was memorable. This particular Saturday we had 5 students: Molly (aforementioned friend and former Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova), Yuri (a Russian friend from Moldova), two vegetarian girls who live here in Phnom Penh, and myself.

We started the day bright and early at 9am by going to the market with our chef. Although we did not buy all the ingredients, we did learn where to buy all the ingredients. Also, she was wonderful about explaining what all the unique and exotic foods were and how to pick them. Even more helpful, she taught me how to distinguish a normal egg (like you would buy in the states) from an egg with a fully formed chicken or duck in it (as you might enjoy if you came here—so far I have passed). This is actually a great skill to have as fear has kept me buying overpriced eggs from the supermarkets. After an hour or so at the market, we headed back to the restaurant and picked up our bags.

The class is actually held not at the restaurant, which is small, but at a house out on a peninsula. This place provided more space, a great peaceful atmosphere, and a beautiful view. We made a traditional Khmer four course meal: papaya salad, green curry, amok (a traditional fish dish), and bananas tapioca with coconut milk. The vegetarians made everything with tofu or nuts to replace the fish and meat. We learned to make everything completely from scratch (including shredding our own green papaya and pounding our own curry) and in individual portions. After each course was completed, we sat down and ate together. Delicious! In the end the course ran for 8 hours! And by the end, I was totally stuffed, very satisfied, and planning meals for when I come home. The best part is that at the end of the class, each of us got a small cookbook to bring home. The cookbook had not only the recipes we had made but also other ones taught!

Papaya salad:
Shredded green papaya mixed with a paste of carrots, dried shrimp, hot sauce, garlic, fish sauce, and more served over a bed of greens (including fresh basil and morning glory) and sprinkled with peanuts.

Green curry:
We actually made the curry paste from scratch, and then cooked it with vegetables, peanuts, and chicken. See the above picture for the step by step.

Amok:
This is possibly the quintessential, traditional Khmer food. It is exceptionally tasty and, to my surprise, has been uniformly wonderful everywhere I have eaten it from fancy restaurants to street corner venders. It is fish (traditionally catfish) cubed and mixed with a paste that is similar to red curry. This is put into either a banana leaf boat or ½ a hollowed coconut with an egg and coconut milk mixture. It is then steamed for 30 minutes. In the case of this class I learned to make the banana leaf boats which entails holding fresh banana leafs in an open flame before fixing the corners of the boat in place with broken toothpicks.

Banana tapioca with coconut milk:
Just what it sounds like: sweet, fruity, wonderfulness.

P.S. If anyone wants to come visit, this is a great activity and lots of fun. It is run completely in English and only costs $20.00 for the whole day (including transportation, food, and cookbook).

New pictures

I have added tons of photos to the site today– most of them are food and market related. I even managed to get a couple photos of myself in there. I promise to update more on the cooking class adventure and work stuff, but probably not until tomorrow. For now- enjoy the photos! To get to the photos, click on the flickr pictures on the left hand column.

Recipe: Pumpkin pudding (Bobo La’pov)

This is the most delicious thing I have eaten while here. I had it while visiting one of the shelters for trafficked children. Beyond the taste, think of all the additional nutrients the dessert gives you!

Most of Cambodian desserts are usually made from our garden. This sweet treat is inexpensive and is very delicious.

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups cooked pumpkin.
  • 1 Cups cooked Jam. ( or Sweet potato)
  • 1 Cups cooked Cassava ( yucca)
  • 1 Cups cooked Taro root.
  • 1 ½ Cup sugar.
  • 1 Cup coconut milk.
  • ½ Teaspoon salt.
  • ½ Teaspoon vanilla.
  • 1 pack 3.5 oz dried tapioca. Soaked in hot water till soft. Drained.
  • ¼ Cup unsalted roast peanut. Crushed.

Directions

Using a non-stick pot. Put cooked pumpkin, cassava, jam, tarot and tapioca in the pot. Pour coconut milk and cook in medium heat.Stirs well. When tapioca cooked, add sugar, salt and vanilla. Serve hot or warm with crushed peanut on top. NOTE:
The pumpkin, jam, taro root and cassava (yucca) in this recipe, were peeled, cubes and pumpkin seeds were removed before measured

*** Thanks to http://asiarecipe.com

Recipe: Caramelized pineapple and tofu (Namor Kho To Hu)

Here is a vegetarian recipe for those out there. Also, I am excited about experimenting with fried rices that have pineapple and other ingredients (for example, carrots, lime juice, hot pepper, cashews, etc.)

Caramelized pineapple and tofu is delicious and very easy to cook.

Ingredients

  • 1 Piece fried tofu. Cut in to bite sizes.
  • 1 Cup chunk of fresh pineapple or 1 small canned chunk pineapple.
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce (mushroom sauce).
  • ½ Cup water.
  • 1 Clove garlic. Minced.
  • 1 Teaspoon sugar.
  • ¼ Teaspoon salt.
  • ¼ Teaspoon black pepper.
  • 1 Stalk green onion. Chopped.
  • A handful of fresh cilantro. Chopped.

Directions

If using canned chunk pineapple, drained juice.
Put pineapple, tofu, garlic, vegetarian oyster sauce and water in a small pot.
Add sugar, salt, black pepper and green onion. Stirs well.
Cook in medium heat till the water reduced.
Top with cilantro.
Serve hot with rice.

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