Monday, 29 February 2016

Cambodia - Kep - February 2011 - a photo essay

Arriving in the 'jungle' in the Kep National Park was beautiful, watching the sunset over the treetops was calming.  I was staying for a few days in this sleepy seaside town up in the jungle.

My days in Kep were very restful (although there may have been a motorbike incident that left me pretty shaken up and perhaps left for another story).  Relaxing by the sea, eating local seafood, hanging out in the jungle and making new friends.  Exactly what my body needed to recharge the batteries.

This is the view from my bungalow overlooking the jungle and this is where I sat and read for many an hour listening to the sounds of the jungle.

Jasmine Valley (now closed)

The food is delicious. Grown locally, pulled fresh from the sea that day and mostly chemical free/organic. 

Many Khmer dishes start with a Kroeung (a paste of herbs and spices similar to a curry paste) and this Khmer curry is not different.  It is thick and creamy with fresh coconut cream, a slick of curry oil floating on top and diced beef (you may see the odd cow or buffalo around town in vacant fields or on the side of the road).

As a side we have rice and water spinach with garlic has a smoky undertone as it has been wok tossed over the flames. 

water spinach with garlic

My typical morning breakfast consisted of at least a small bowl of bobor, which is Khmer rice porridge.  This one is more broth based and the rice still holds it's shape.  It is also piled with water spinach.  Bobor can vary from a thick rice gruel to this thinner broth like soup.  All yummy!

bobur (rice porridge)

Kep is famous for its fresh seafood and everyday the fisherman bring in their catch and the beach is a hive of activity. There is a row of shack like restaurants that serve up a vast variety of seafood dishes and I had dinner there most nights.
Kampot pepper is also world renown.  In fact it's the only black pepper that I use in my kitchen nowadays.  Fresh Khmer green peppercorns are something else.  Clusters of little green pods of peppery goodness that you cannot get outside of Cambodia are used in many dishes like this very tasty crab in green peppercorns feast.
Forgive me for the darkness of these photos.  Lighting in these shacks are dim!

Big plump prawns star in this dish using those strands of fresh Khmer peppercorns and lots of shallots.

Squid is another local speciality.

Sometimes you do get a stinker of a dish and not in a good way.  We ordered this 'shark' dish one night and our first bite found us spitting it out.  The ammonia was so strong you could actually smell it.  We did say something to the restaurant and in the end they actually went and got some 'fresh' shark from another restaurant to make the dish again.  this was probably the only time during my stay (and the 4 months that I lived in Cambodia) that I ever had a real issue with a dish.
The fish is pretty good too.  Ginger and shallot sauce as I recall.
I popped over to Kampot for an afternoon of markets and snacking. You will always see an abundance of fresh greens in the markets.

Afternoons in the markets in the heat usually means the stall owners have a rest.  Sling up a hammock over your produce and have a snooze.
Lots of dried fish and haggling at the wet market.

This is Kapi or more commonly known as shrimp paste.  Mounds of the stuff!!!

Pork crackling anyone?  These sheets of crackling look glorious and my eyes bulge.  Sadly, they are not salty and fatty like we love and enjoy to eat.  Of course they are crackling and shards are used in many dishes in many forms including beer snacks.
One thing I loved about Cambodia is that everyday can be pyjama day.  Many of the local women wear 'pj's'.  They are comfy, cotton cool and protects from the sun.  They are colourful and bright and with bold patterns and prints.
In the wet market, as you can see above, it is awash with dirty water and most paths have little gutters to drain the water away.  Attempts are made to keep things clean which sometimes are a fail and you need to be mindful where you step!  Countless times I step in something gross usually when I was wearing thongs.
You can sometimes identify the meat stall by the head of the animal they are selling.  Get in early in the day to get the freshest and best pieces.  No refrigeration here.  Everything is fresh that morning and will sell out.

Need sustenance?  The market has lots of food stalls.  They feed the locals, the shoppers and the workers at the market and any stray traveller looking for a local feed, often a novelty to the cook!
This snack a deep fried pork chop and a the other dish is a sausage type filling wrapped in a deep fried bean curd wrapper with a fish sauce and vinegar with radish sauce.

Riding on the back of a motor cycle on the way back I snapped a few roadside photos.  Remember I told you about the cows.  A typical Khmer style residence with cows and chickens.

On my final night in Kep we sip beers at the Sailing Club and watch the sunset.  I love how they have used random and abandoned fishing accessories and made them into features around the club, like these overhead lights.
The long jetty is picture worthy.
It is a beautiful spot overlooking the sea and watching the big orange orb dip over the horizon is spectacular.

After sunset drinks we head to a private property that the locals head to for a night of hotpot and dining out under the stars on a wooden platform.  The hosts bring out platters of fresh meats, grilled meats, omelettes, vegetables and salads with an array of condiments along with buckets of ice and beer.

Everything gets cooked in the hotpot and using your chopsticks you choose your morsels and bites.  By the end of the meal you end up with a pot of awesome broth to slurp on from your bowl.

I love nothing better than to dip a piece of meat into a mix of salt, Khmer pepper and lime juice.  It's the most basic and simple condiment on the Khmer table but the most complex and tastiest.

My time in the capital and Kep was truly magical.  I loved it and realised that I needed to come back again (which I did later in that year).  As much as I love the country, it has taken me all this time to post about it. No real excuse unfortunately. I hope that one day I return to discover more delights.  It will always have a fond place in my heart.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Cambodia: Phnom Penh - February 2011 - a photo essay

My second visit to Cambodia was in February 2011 for 10 days.  It was this trip that made me decide that I wanted to do some volunteer teaching and returned in July 2011 for four months (but that is for another post at another time).  The trip in February 2011 was great.  I managed to spend some time out of the city and into the jungle (or national park actually - same/same).
A few days in the capital first though.
I love wandering through any local food markets whenever I travel.  You get to chat with some very delightful and sometimes colourful individuals!  It is also the perfect way to get an outsiders view of a culture.  In the wet markets you will find an odd assortment of offerings at various stalls.  While most will cater for one or two specific things.  If they do that dish well they can gather a huge following as popularity grows.

Found these lotus flower pods.  Each lotus seed pops out of each whole. It's a slow snack and not very filling but they were something that I had never tried before.
lotus seeds

More often than not, local food markets can be confronting sights for some.  Cambodia is no different. The whole nose to tail concept here is just part and parcel of their daily dietary regime.  It is not a new trend or an ethical way of eating.  It is a necessity.   In a country where below poverty lines are the norm it is a must to use the whole beast and plant. Those extra bits are sometimes the most flavourful and a little can go a very long way with just rice as a staple.

Here is a cart on the side of one of the markets we were visiting where a lady assembled your porcine choices, weighed, chopped and served it up with a simple chilli sauce on the side.

bits and pieces of porcine goodness
In every local market and on pretty much every street corner in any town or village in Cambodia will have a banh mi cart. Filled with processed pork sausage, pate, mayo and pickled vegetables are slathered on crispy Vietnamese style baguettes. This is one addiction that has followed me back to Sydney.

Banh Mi
So a little tour around the many alley ways and walkways.   We come across some beautiful fresh fruits. Rambutans are a South East Asian treat.

You will see street sellers pushing their carts of snails through the streets throughout the day.  You can choose from a selection of snails and flavours.  After a morning being pushed around the hot sun I did pass on tasting these.

Snails (plain and chilli)

Here in the South East of Asia, fermented and dried fish is common practice.  Mainly it was way of preserving food where there was (and still is) little to no refrigeration.  Although this practice is still in place for the those reasons, it has also become part of the daily palate.

This preservation method, creates a very pungent product.  It offers big bold flavours that can enrich any basic meal.  Sadly, rice is the only option for sustenance for many families so a little dried fish with the rice can be a flavourful accompaniment.

Here are a selection of fermented foods found in the markets staring with  fermented crabs.
fermented crabs
I never found out what type of dried and smoked fish this was (can anybody help me)?  I thought mackerel but I could be way off.
dried fish
There is a large variety of prawns and shrimp that are dried and they are used in a multitude of ways.
dried shrimp
This product might be strong on the nose but when ground up or used in sauces and soups it does impart a more subtle flavour.
I saw these fritters in all shapes and sizes through out my travels.  These particular ones were fried dough and prawns muffins.  I also saw them in a crispy flat disc.
prawn fritters

A great drinking snack is dried flattened squid that are then char grilled.  They are sun dried and then flattened through a press (like a pasta machine) and then put on the grill.  They remind of a jerky and go perfectly with cold beer.
dried and fried squid on sticks
One of my all time favourite dishes (which is actually a Vietnamese dish) is Banh Xeo (pronounced ban chow).  Given the proximity you will find a lot of Vietnamese dishes around Cambodia.  Is a pancake stuffed with prawns, beansprouts, herbs, sometimes pieces of pork and topped with pork floss.  It is a winner
Banh Xeo

Another great find is the sour sausage particularly when it is sold alongside a bucket of smelly prahok, which is the most famous fermented food found in the Country. 

sour sausage and prahok
It is a salted, fermented fish paste that truly is ripe on the nose but mix it with pork mince and steam it you get what is in the dish below and is so perfect with rice I was addicted to it.
prahok and pork
Just up the road a couple of blocks from my guest house, Nordic House on 136 St, is a small Chinese restaurant offering up some delicious dishes especially for breakfast and I indulged in a Westlake Beef soup.  A bowl of very light but flavourful pork broth with cubes of silky smooth fresh tofu and bits of beef mince.  (This has since become a staple in my own kitchen).

Westlake beef soup

They even offered yum cha items like har gau (or prawn dumplings) and steamed pork busn.  These are plump and juicy with the glutinous wrapping translucent soft with a bit of chew.  The buns were fluffy and filled with delicious steamed pork mince and garlic.

prawn dumplings and pork buns

Another morning we shared this soup.  I can't remember what it is called.  It was tofu and a purple vegetable that was shredded (not cabbage!).

Cambodia's proximity to Thailand and Vietnam has naturally brought in their dishes too.  You can find many restaurants serving up an array of international flavours.  Thai is authentic and a good curry cannot be passed up.

More wandering through markets around town led me to see and sample so many other offerings.   Here is a little photo tour around.

The market is bustling during our visit.  Got to go early and get your fresh produce....well fresh!

Lots of dried fish from this lady.

It's not all about food, fresh flowers too and check out those glorious lotus flower buds!


One last meal before hitting the road.  Chiang Mai chicken curry from a Thai restaurant down along the Riverside and if memory recalls I think it was actually called Chiang Mai Riverside

chiang mai chicken curry

The special of the day was these crab 'spring rolls' which were actually an omelette style roll filled with delicious crab meat.

crab pancakes
On the road to Kep, we made a roadside stop for a cold fruit smoothie.  Very popular on the dusty hot roads and quenched the thirst.  Thick with mango and milk and lots of blended ice.

roadside fruit smoothies

and as I said, I'm on the road to Kep...stay tuned for what's next on this trip.