Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cambodia Part 2

Kirirom National Park was our next destination, and since we were gonna be staying at a resort, we figured food would be expensive and more geared to western tastebuds. Thus breakfast required us to make a quick run to Bayon Bakery with a moto driver, and there we bought nice buns and rolls with local egg custard and cream. The most fantastical however were these unassuming baguettes, slightly longer and thinner than the regular ones, we though maybe they were onion baguettes, judging from the bits of fried green onion on the top. A close inspection upon breaking the crusty baguette was delicious sweet savoury pork floss.

The national park was where we learnt to say.. no salt, no msg. By day 4 we were really terrified of the msg laden local cuisine, which would have been really good if not for the liberal quantities of Cambodians' favourite seasoning. I don't mind msg in small quantities, after all it has been used in Chinese cuisine for centuries. But the way Cambodians, Thais and as we discovered later, the Vietnamese, lash it on is just atrocious.

The park was beautiful, and we took a long hike to big big waterfall, and hung around in relative luxury for a few days. We got bored really soon however, and headed next to Sihanoukville, a popular southern coastal town in Kampong Som. After a lacklustre dinner, (we tried to find a local place to eat, but all the local places had menus with no prices and we had a limited budget) we spent the whole of Day Two walking through the sprawling town.

Took us the better part of the day to walk from Victory Beach, back to Oecheutuel Beach where we were staying, but along the way we uncovered a gem. There were some cambodian standards, fish sour soup with morning glory, some salted vegetables eve, all from a roadside stall very much like our own economic rice stalls. The stallholder lady was sweet and knew a little english even. Local customers streamed by to take away plastic bags of food for their own lunches. Our cheapest meal to date (5500 Riel, about USD$1.30 for both of us), with some culinary surprises hiding in our bowl. Behold the humble stewed pork belly. It looked familiar, like a soy sauce braised pork, even sporting the dark stained hard boiled eggs.

A mouthful however revealed a complicated grilled flavour, laced with a mild sweet sauce. The pork had first been marinated then grilled and then cooked in a soy sauce mixture but with dark palm sugar. It was amazing, the chunks of meat melting on my tongue. It was quite hard to believe, and I actually stood up and went to the pot to dish myself more. (I'm not a glutton though, I need to explain that by this point we had gotten a little sick of meat and the generous portions of meat here, coupled with my travelling partner's limited meat intake, meaning that I was getting overly generous portions of meat. So when we saw the fatty meat we just wanted the eggs in the stew, and were not really interested in the meat and had but one small piece in our bowl, hence me getting up to get more.)

After such a yummy lunch we figured we needed something sweet for a treat, and a sign boasting italian gelato called out to us from another street. It was a hospitality school, and they had some lovely home-made gelato for 50 cents a scoop. suffice to say the lime sorbet was the perfect way to cool off in the crazy heat.

Exhausted we spent all afternoon on the beach, eating barbequed squid, drinking beer and getting mobbed by beach kids trying to sell us useless things. I had a bag of apple wafers and instead of buying something from them I would hand the kids a few. They seemed pretty appeased. Circumstances meant that we had to leave Sihanoukville in the morning and so we decided to splash out a little on dinner, and have bbq at one of the pub/shacks by the Sea. It was nothing special really, just a grilled whole fish and some shrimp and more grilled squid. But the fries were some of the best I've ever had, not frozen, made from fresh local potatoes, they were crinkle cut and coated with a thin batter that made a super crisp shell, with lots of potato flavour inside. Oh lovely, a local woman's take on french fries, very well done. Sometimes another culture's insight does yield some fantastic results.

**Some Photos courtesy of Huiwen and Her Camera

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cambodia Part 1

First stop after leaving the airport, regardless of the cooked fishballs and fresh tau kwa in my carry-on luggage, was somewhere where we could get a good solid dose of Cambodian food.

Papaya salad, fish amok, beef sour soup and some excellent fried chicken. Amok restaurant however, is a slight disappointment... Khmer Kitchen was much better. It was still all pretty decent tasting, just that I felt that the flavours were a little muted, the sour soup not tart enough, the amok not spicy or coconutty enough. Maybe it's due to the fact that Amok restaurant caters alot to the caucasian crowd. It was good enough though, we were so full after that.

The next day started a little late, so no breakfast and a very ordinary rice lunch with stuffed bittergourd soup and some stir fried long beans. One thing we were quick to notice however, was the copious use of MSG in our food. Something had to be done there, but we let it rest for now.. Our late afternoon visit to Pasar Toutompong distracted us with a delightful aroma...

We had no idea what it was.. could have been dog meat for all we knew. My non-meat-loving friend was drooling... how cool was that?! Served with a super crunchy, hot toasted, light-as-air baguettes, slathered with a sweet butter inside, the alternate mouthfuls of fragrantly sweet barbequed meat, and light chewy crunch was oddly satisfactory. We had four sticks of meat and two baguettes altogether and I think it cost about USD1.50. I cannot remember, but I know it was a ridiculously tiny price for such a wonderful snack. Locals were just coming and going, and it was fascinating to watch.

Walking around after that, we saw a little stall that had, amongst all the other packaged snacks some trays of little sweetmeats, just like the kueh kueh we have at home. These green ones looked fascinating, so we bought one to try for 300riel 5cents USD, they were good, not too sweet, filled with some light brown coconut, the skin like mooncake snowskin. Not a coconut fan, W wasn't too impressed, but I quite liked it.

Walking back to our place, we saw this one shop selling some kind of fritters.. they were huge, and we though maybe it was banana. I was really disappointed though, it was more batter than anything else. i could hardly see or smell the banana. W liked it.. she's a more batter than banana person I guess.. Or maybe it WASN'T banana... I still have no idea.. Anyone knows?

Dinner was a coup.....

I've read about beef Loc Lac, and heard bad things about it too but never really tried it. Fortunately for me the first version I've ever had also had to be the best! Beef cubes were perfectly done medium and the sauce, tasty and peppery, perfect with the steaming mound of rice. One more thing to go on my list of things to eat in Cambodia. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the place, although I can ask my friends if anyone is interested. Definitely worth the find, and the 3 or 4 usd price tag.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I'm Back!!!

I tried to blog but unfortunately there was too much to do, and too little time, and terrible internet connections. very frustrating since I did not bring my own laptop. Fortunately, now I'm home and have several days to blog about my crazy adventures, and all the fun I had, food and otherwise.

I'll try to do it in installments, probably day by day, with pictures to go with everything. but first, to catch up on some sleep... tataaaa!