Thursday, December 19, 2013

Begin the Asian Foodie Posts! Part 1 - Cambodia

Our segment in Cambodia was not the primary foodie part of our trip.  Nonetheless there was lots of culinary adventuring to be had.

What Wikipedia has to say about Cambodian Cuisine:

Khmer cuisine (Khmer: សិល្បៈខាងធ្វើម្ហូបខ្មែរ) or, more generally, Cambodian cuisine is one of the world's oldest living cuisines. With an emphasis on simplicity, freshness, seasonality and regionalism, Cambodian food has won praise for its elegant and understated use of spice; its harmonious arrangement of contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures within the meal rather than a single dish; and its thoughtful and, at times, extravagant presentation of dishes with plenty of herbs, leaves, pickles, dipping sauces, edible flowers and other garnishes and condiments.

Our (#2 and I) observations on Cambodian Cuisine:

 The cuisines of Southeast Asia are extremely varied but thus far the only ones that seem to have made any significant inroads to the US food scene are Thai and Vietnamese.  Our experience with Cambodian cuisine was (like its geography) in between the two but distinctly its own.  It had a lot of the flavor bases of Thai with the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, galangal, kefir lime leaf and coconut milk flavors.  But it lacks the chile component.  In general based on our limited exposure the sour component from the lemongrass and kefir lime leaf dominated.  It is a different kind of sour than we often experience from citrus bases because it lacked the citric acid component.  So sort of a sour flavor without the acid.  As befits a poor country there were lots of veggies and small amounts of meat in most dishes.  The veggies in general were very good.  All the flavors were very fresh and vibrant.  #2 and I took a cooking class at the end of our stay in Cambodia and found out why.  The whole flavor base methodology was different (almost opposite) of Western cooking.  Here in the dishes we were taught you start with some flavor base pastes (Amok paste, shrimp paste, etc.) in hot oil, start adding fluids (coconut milk, water, broth), and only then add your aromatics (shallots, garlic, ginger, kefir lime leaf).  This is the opposite of Western methodologies where you typically build your flavor base with your aromatics sauteed or sweated in oil.  The ubiquitous sort of 'national/regional' dish was Amok of which there were numerous variations.

Our Cambodian Food Tour

I'm afraid I didn't do as complete a job of documenting the Cambodian food scene as I did in Singapore so as I went back over my pictures there were definitely some gaps.

First Meal - Our handler (guide) took us here.  As #3 and #2 found out in Viet Nam, you guides are trained to bring you to 'Western friendly' places which often means the foods are tailored to Western tastes...not what we were looking for.  At this place the food looked nice, was over priced compared to any other meal we had and the food was pretty much like you'd get in the US at a Thai restaurant.

Green Papaya Salad with Chicken

Banana Flower Salad with Chicken

Spring rolls
We ate tons of these and they were uniformly fresh and vibrant

Tom Yom Soup and Red Curry


2B took charge of our culinary life for most of the rest of our Siem Reap trip.  He had done a bunch of research on TripAdvisor and talking to friends and fellow Diplomatic Corps compatriots.  He was spot on (he found our hotel too which was great).

Chamkar, a vegetarian Cambodia specialty restaurant
This was a HUGE improvement over our lunch

Showing here were a sour vegetable soup and a fried calamari dish (Cambodian flavored)

We also had a vegetarian oyster (oyster mushrooms), fried vegetable fritter, and 'Stinging Amok' dish (the white sauce at the bottom).  One of the best versions we had.

The Pause that Refreshes

#2 and 2B extolled the praises of green coconut for fighting thirst.
There were vendors everywhere we went who for just cents would chop them open and give you a straw to fresh juice within.  Coconut juice is a natural sports drink with tons of electrolytes.  On was enough to quench your thirst where many bottles of water would not.


Haven was a really neat place.  It is run by a Swiss guy who takes orphans and other disadvantaged youths, trains them in Swiss style hospitality at his restaurant here and then places them in the hospitality industry throughout Siem Reap.  He serves up an eclectic menu of Cambodian and Western fare.  

2B raved about his burger.  Expats get hungry for the tastes of home

We had another version Tom Yum Gai, fried calamari, a green papaya salad, and a fish dish

Cuisine Wat Damnak

This is a very high end place with a set tasting menu.  Just give you an idea of how affordable it is in Siem Reap, I took a picture of the menu.  If you'll note you could get an 18 year old scotch for just $8.  Everything was great.

The amuse-bouche was a crispy morsel of fried rice
I could have this with drinks by the bowlful

 First courses - The marinated chicken salad and the prawn fruit salad

The stuffed calamari - not sure what the stuffing was but it sure was tasty

Fish baked in banana leaf - this had the familiar amok flavoring

The Mekong Shrimp sour soup

The frog leg meat - really good

Pan fried Chhang fish

The beef cheeks

The only things we were not excited about were the desserts

The coconut panna cotta

The steamed chocolate cake

Walk on the Common Side

For lunch we were back at Ankgor Wat.  We eschewed the tourist restaurant that our guide took us to for breakfast after our sunrise visit there two days earlier and picked out our own place that had a lot of Asians in it.  It was kind of Pan-Asia fare and was good.  2B looked it out later and found out it had a very high TripAdvisor rating so let's here it for luck.

For dinner we just chose a place in the main tourist section where Chamkar was.  I had noted this place that was very inexpensive and also had locals in it.  We were not disappointed.  

Fried whole fish

Fish fillets in a sauce that I forget

Greens in chile

 Cambodian breakfast at the hotel
Rice soup - I can eat and love just about any version of Asian soup, especially for breakfast

Cooking School
Our classroom

 Where we enjoyed the fruits of our labors

 Venerable Pu showing off the mis-en-place for our spring rolls
We learned a neat technique of rubbing the finished rolls with some garlic flavored oil that keeps them from sticking together for a long period of time after they are rolled.

We were taught to make traditional Amok
Just before devouring same

Making a really neat banana dessert that was incredibly simple but yummy


Renee Michelle Goertzen said...

Thanks for the tip on rubbing spring rolls with oil! I make them sometimes, and normally space them out on the plate carefully, but oil would solve the problem!

alexis said...

will have to look out for cambodian restaurants, though I imagine they'll be a little tame here!

de-I said...

RM - the neatest thing about the oil trick is after about 30 to 60 minutes of application there is no oily feeling. The rolls are dry but separate.

Alexis - I don't know about it being tame where you are as it is not a hot/spicy cuisine. The difference we noted was the brightness and freshness of the flavors as being different from similar (such as Thai) at home.