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.

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