Archive for the 'Cambodia' Category

Pure Relaxation

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I may spend most of my life running around like crazy from school to work to food blogging to triathlon training, but I am pretty excellent at relaxing too, especially when a nice beach is involved.

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We found a basic, cheap room only about 1/4 mile from Serendipity beach, but quickly discovered that the best beach in the area (Otres Beach) is a 10-minute moto ride away. We had a fabulous time hanging out on the beach, reading, swimming in the beautiful warm water, and of course, drinking a few glasses of the local beer.

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The food wasn’t spectacular – lots of basic curries and fresh fruit – but that’s not why we went to Sihanoukville.

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We had originally planned on 3 days, but enjoyed it so much we ended up staying 9! Definitely a great spot to do absolutely NOTHING but watch sunsets and relax. It’s also the best place in SE Asia to get a Vietnam visa – you pay your $40 at the consulate and have the visa in your hand in about 15 minutes.

Next up…the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam!

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Khmer Cooking Class

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I think cooking classes are one of the best ways to get to know the cuisine of an area. I love them so much, in fact, that I wrote this article about why I think they’re a great thing to do when you travel. I also love that a lot of cooking classes include a visit to a local market, so I can ask questions about unfamiliar produce (like banana flowers and mangosteens!)

The markets in Southeast Asia are best in the early morning. That’s when everything is fresh and the weather isn’t quite as steamy as it gets later in the day. Sambath met us at 8:00 AM and we headed to Battambang’s central market to get the ingredients for our cooking class.

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This market had everything! Freshly butchered cows, pigs, and chickens, all kinds of beautiful fruits and vegetables, fresh and dried fish…and FROGS!

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Snakes and frogs like to hang out in rice fields, and since Cambodia grows a lot of rice, there are plenty of them around to eat.

We arrived at Sambath’s house on the outskirts of town and started prepping our ingredients. We peeled some sweet potatoes, cut up eggplant, and I sliced up some fresh turmeric and lemongrass for curry paste.

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Once the curry paste was ready to go, we stir fried it with chicken, vegetables, coconut milk, and a little fish sauce to make yellow curry. It was rich and not too spicy, with a nice blend of salty (from the fish sauce) and sour (from keffir lime leaves and lemongrass). A little sugar stirred in while cooking rounded out the flavor.

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Next we made fish amok, which we’ve seen on menus everywhere. We cooked chunks of catfish and fresh vegetables with curry paste and ground peanuts. We put that mixture in a little box made out of a banana leaf, then topped it with some coconut cream. After about 20 minutes in the steamer, they were perfect!

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Our third and final dish was a beef stir fry called loc lac, which is served over raw vegetables with black pepper sauce. I’d never thought about combining cooked and raw foods that way, but it was really delicious the way the textures and temperatures contrasted, and the lemony pepper sauce was a perfect mix of hot, sour, and sweet.

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When I get back to America, I’ll be making these dishes (and vegetarian versions of them!) and posting recipes on the blog, so be sure to check back!

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I also took a fabulous cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand a few months ago, which you can read about here and here!

Angkor Wat and Beyond!

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There’s a reason Angkor Wat gets thousands of visitors a year. It’s an absolutely amazing collection of ruins from the 9th-12th centuries, and we spent two exhausting days climbing around a bunch of ancient temples. I know, however, that my photographic prowess leaves a lot to be desired, and that if you do a Google Image Search for Angkor Wat, you’ll find thousands of pictures much better than any I could ever take. We stayed in a basic guesthouse in Siem Reap and ate a bunch of standard tourist food, so I didn’t bother taking pictures for the blog. BUT, if you were wondering, I HIGHLY recommend a visit to Angkor Wat! Even if you usually have no interest in ruins, these are pretty amazing to see.

After Siem Reap, we caught a bus to Battambang, which I is Cambodia’s second largest city. The city itself is a little dull, but we had one of the best days of the trip exploring the countryside around it.

If you happen to find yourself in Battambang, go to the Royal Hotel (it’s right near the central market) and ask for Sambath. This is Sambath.

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He drives a tuk-tuk and he and his wife teach cooking classes out of their home. He speaks quietly but smiles easily, and has plenty of fascinating stories about his life. He was born near the border with Vietnam in the early 1970s, then moved to a work camp when the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. His parents sent him to a Wat (Buddhist temple) for school because it was free and they couldn’t afford a regular school, and he ended up driving a tuk tuk in Battambang in the late 1990s. He now has 3 children and a growing business. He’s a pretty remarkable guy.

First, he took us to see how rice paper is made. This is the rice paper that you need to make fresh spring rolls and I had no idea how it was made before today!

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Rice is soaked, then ground up and mixed with water to make a mixture that reminds me a lot of Elmers School Glue. This woman spends her days spreading a thin layer on a piece of cloth stretched over some boiling water, covering it for a few minutes to steam, then carefully transferring it to a bamboo rack to dry.

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The family makes thousands of pieces of rice paper a day, which they sell to restaurants in town.

After seeing rice paper, we stopped a little ways down the road to see how white rice is separated from the stalk and husk.

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It’s awesome to see how little waste there is. The husks are saved to burn as fuel, and the broken grains of rice that aren’t good enough to package and sell are saved to make rice whiskey or be ground up to make rice paper.

Sticking with the rice theme, we stopped in to see a family who makes fresh rice noodles.

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Each kilogram of rice noodles brings in about $1 for the family, which are sold to restaurants and at the market in town. These women are packing the fresh noodles to be taken to the market.

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On a few of our bus rides, we noticed that a lot of people brought some bamboo with food inside. We asked Sambath about it and he showed us what it is:

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Sticky rice and coconut milk are packed into a length of bamboo, then cooked over a fire (fueled by dried coconut husks!) until the rice is soft.

One of the staples of the Cambodian diet is fish, but because most households have no refrigeration, a lot of the fish that is caught each day is made into a very pungent fish paste.

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First the fish are cleaned (head, organs, and bones removed), then the fish is mixed with salt in giant barrels and left to sit for a few months.

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If that doesn’t look appetizing enough for you, we also stopped by a place surrounded by rice fields where men go after work to relax. The snack of choice? Snakes!

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This is a barrel full of snakes waiting to be cooked for afternoon snack. The rice paddies are filled with snakes (most of which are not poisonous, fortunately), so they are frequently caught and eaten.

Near the end of the afternoon, we stopped in at Cambodia’s only winery

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With Sambath as an interpreter, we had a chat with the owner who said she learend to make wine by reading books. It wasn’t the best wine, and the $15 price tag per bottle seemed a little hefty, but since we come from a major wine-producing area in California, it was interesting to see how it’s done on the other side of the world. The winery also produces brandy and grape juice.

Coming from Siem Reap, where the locals we encountered were constantly trying to sell us bracelets and post cards, these less touristy villages were a welcome change. As we drove past houses, adorable kids waved and shouted “hello!” and it was nice to see how people make a living outside the tourism sector. Seeing all the food products got me really excited for our cooking class…which I’ll write about in my next post!

A little bit of history

Our second day in Phnom Penh was a little more somber than the first. I didn’t know much about the Khmer Rouge before we came here, other than that Pol Pot was the leader and killed thousands of people. To get a little more familiar with the history, we hired a tuk-tuk driver and set out to see the killing fields, about 15 KM out of town. That was where thousands of intellectuals, teachers, doctors, and basically anyone Pol Pot felt was a threat to his plan for a communist agrarian society were murdered.

I didn’t really feel right taking pictures. Pretty much all that remains now is a memorial filled with skulls of the victims, and a few empty mass graves. There’s also a small museum about the site and the Khmer Rouge.

Coming back into town, we saw a bakery and stopped to check it out. I knew that a carbohydrate overdose would cheer me up a little after the depressing morning.

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I love bread.

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Mike perused the case and we picked out some different filled pastries.

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It was almost lunch time so we also got some amazing baguette sandwiches from the sandwich stand.

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After that nice little detour, we got right back into Cambodia’s shockingly depressing history with a visit to the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. This is where the Khmer Rouge kept prisoners before they were taken to the killing fields.

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It used to be a high school, but in 1975 the Khmer Rouge moved everyone from the city to work camps in the country, closed schools, and got rid of money.
Some of the former classrooms on the ground floor now show photos of the prisoners.

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Others were divided into tiny cells.

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Seeing pictures and personal accounts by people who lived through the time of the Khmer Rouge was both interesting and horrifying. I just cannot imagine my family being forced to leave the city, split up and be sent to different work camps where even small children were forced to do manual labor all day and food was scarce.

The next adventure: Phnom Penh!

Phnom Penh isn’t a long flight from Seoul but it feels like another world. We left the chilly fall weather of Korea and the heat and humidity outside the Phnom Penh airport was definitely kind of a shock!

We took a taxi to Me Mates Place guesthouse, which I can’t say enough good things about. Everyone there is incredibly friendly, and the location was great – really close to Wat Phnom and a quick walk to the riverfront. But enough about that, on to the food!

One of the things I love most about Southeast Asia is the markets. The first thing we did when we woke up was head out to the Central Market. It’s housed in a really cool old building, but some of the stalls spill out onto the surrounding streets.

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I craved tropical fruit pretty much the whole time we were in Korea, so I was really excited to be back in the land of cheap fresh pineapple! This lady perfectly carved a pineapple for us and it was sweet, juicy, and just what I was craving.

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There were also fresh coconuts all over the place…

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TONS of bananas,

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all sorts of fishy products

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and some pretty awesome looking sausages.

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The pineapple wasn’t quite filling enough to make a complete breakfast, so we stopped for a steamed bun

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that was filled with ground meat

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I love that Cambodia has a mix of my favorite things from Vietnam and Thailand.

Like Vietnam, you can get fabulous sandwiches on chewy baguettes.

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And like Thailand, there is plenty of noodle soup and curry!

Because Cambodia was occupied by France, there are some amazing old buildings, but a lot of them are abandoned

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And it’s a Bhuddist country, there is no shortage of wats!

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Wat Phnom is on a hill overlooking Phnom Penh. It’s definitely not the fanciest wat I’ve seen, but the setting is beautiful, and there are monkeys everywhere!

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The area around the base of the hill is always full of families relaxing, children playing, and plenty of food vendors. This lady had a barbecue going as she walked!

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We had a great day just walking around the city. I am really excited to see what the rest of this country is like too! We don’t have any definite plans other than visiting Angkor Wat and hitting up the beach in Sihuanoukville…so we’ll see how this unfolds!