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A Culinary Tour of Cambodia

What do you know about Cambodia? Angkor Wat? The bloody and brutal Pol Pot regime? 

To most of the western world Cambodia is a mystery. Motivated by a long held dream to see first hand the mysterious temples that had been reclaimed from the jungle, I planned a visit to Cambodia. The lack of tourist infrastructure made research challenging so I concluded that joining a small group tour would easily remove the uncertainty.

With only a smidge of knowledge of what my experiences would entail I focussed my speculations on the food I would eat. I imagined a fusion of Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, a marriage of freshness and complex aromatics balanced by the richness of coconut milk, and while in some instances this is true, I have since concluded that Khmer food is truly unique. 

Khmer delicacies

Khmer delicacies

Tourists in SE Asia expect to be served a sanitised and modified version of the food that is eaten everyday by the local people. Cursed by sensitive digestive systems and cultural inhibitions most visitors refuse street food and local delicacies of questionable provenance. I was no exception.

The rural Khmer harvest an annual rice crop to sustain themselves for the year. A small patch of land is given over to vegetables and various culinary herbs grow wild by the roadside. Morning glory greens are cultivated around the edge of paddy fields while banana and coconut palms liberally dot the landscape.  Chickens scratch about the home yard providing eggs whilst in their prime and fish, snails, frogs, crabs, rice paddy rats, water snakes crickets and other bugs provide valuable sources of protein. Most rural families have a cow or water buffalo as a work animal but no dairy foods are consumed. The beasts are kept purely for their reproductive value, labour and meat.

Khmer delicacies

Khmer delicacies

Snacking is a national pastime as is swinging in a hammock. Roadside vendors and village markets stalls not only pedal local delicacies but also provide hammocks  in which to catch 40 winks. Barbecued food on skewers are common offerings at these places. Rice paddy pests such as frogs, water snakes, fruit bats, and rats are deep fried, spiced then grilled, crickets and other bugs are seasoned and deep fried. Fish is commonplace, even inland thanks to the vast and bounteous lake, Tonle Sap. Steamed glutinous rice with banana and coconut are offered in many styles to satisfy the sweet tooth. 

sweet glutinous rice snacks

sweet glutinous rice snacks

The glazed grilled meats looked and smelled tempting until a head, claw or tail came into focus and the brain comprehended the physical structure of the skewered creature. My western sensibilities subsumed my curiosity and I was unable to set aside by inner revulsion. I did eat a cricket, one cricket, straight from the fryer. It was okay.

I was left totally in awe of the resourcefulness of the Khmer people. 

 

About ladyredspecs

I live in sunny Brisbane, Australia. My love of good food drives me as a cook, a reader, a traveller, an artist and but mostly as an eater. I cooked professionally for many years but have no formal training. Simply guided by a love of eating good food, respect for ingredients and an abhorrence of artificial additives, I cook instinctively applying the technical know how acquired by experience. I hope you enjoy what I share Sandra AKA ladyredspecs

25 comments on “A Culinary Tour of Cambodia

  1. guidemi
    December 7, 2018

    Frogs still okay but rats and water snakes are like…. eeewwwww >.< wonder how they taste like though

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      December 7, 2018

      Iwas told both rates and snakes tasted like chicken. I guess I’ll never really know

      Like

  2. kt
    December 3, 2018

    I also had a cricket (or five) in Cambodia. My favorite part about the cuisine is how fresh the food is, at least compared to my Chicago grocery store pickings 🙂 I sat with a family for dinner once and everything for dinner had been bought from the market that day, including a coconut used to create coconut milk (I’ve only ever used canned – didn’t even know how it was made!). Can’t wait to return 🙂

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      December 3, 2018

      The simplicity of the Cambodian cuisine struck a chord with me too, no need for “manufactured” food, keep it simple and natural.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Debi @ An Evolving Life
    November 23, 2018

    How have I missed these posts of yours? This is a wonderful culinary tour of a place I know very little about. Yes, I am one of the large number who find Cambodia a mystery. Although I have tasted frogs’ legs and can image that BBQ frogs’ legs might be very tasty. Wow is all I can say. Glad you were well the whole time and you had a great travel experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ladyredspecs
      November 23, 2018

      Aw thanks Debi, Cambodia was a wonderful experience for us, which in the end, I think I put down to our local guide, Sam. We saw the real Cambodia desperately trying to get on with rebuilding / bettering life.

      Like

  4. Sue
    November 22, 2018

    Wow, plenty there I wouldn’t be trying….and the poor hygiene would definitely hold me back (my immune system is rather compromised)

    Liked by 1 person

    • ladyredspecs
      November 22, 2018

      My dodgy gut really influences my decisions about what I do and do not try. I was well for the whole trip thankfully, a first for me when travelling in Asia.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ron
    November 20, 2018

    How interesting, I’d of given each a try as long as I had a good medical evacuation insurance plan. In my visits to China I’ve eaten many weird items, but fried scorpions was the most challenging. In the end, it tasted crunchy and of peanut oil it was fried in, likely like your cricket.

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    • ladyredspecs
      November 20, 2018

      Hi Ron, yest it sounds as if the cricket and scorpion may have been similar eating experiences. I have a terrible track record with sickness when travelling, fortunately never to the point of evacuation, but I was playing safe this trip and I’m pleased to say it paid off😃

      Like

  6. Michelle
    November 18, 2018

    What a wonderful trip! I’d have trouble with some of those, too. But my husband would jump right in to all.

    Like

  7. Linda
    November 16, 2018

    Amazing! I don’t think I would have been able to eat any of those delicacies! Not even a cricket! But it’s wonderful that they consume whatever they find around them (in multitude) Thanks for sharing 🙂 🙂

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      November 16, 2018

      Truly commendable that “pests” are treated as a source of nutrition. We are so wasteful in the west…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. chef mimi
    November 16, 2018

    Hahahahahaha! What a great post! One cricket. Well, I don’t blame you. I’ve certainly tried haggis, but I don’t think I would want to try a rice paddy rat. We’re going to Machu Pichu next year and I won’t appreciate seeing grilled guinea pigs.

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      November 16, 2018

      Hah, guinea pig is right up there for sure. It was a much a fear of poor hygiene as “unusual” food that held me back.

      Like

      • chef mimi
        November 16, 2018

        Which is only smart. The only time I’ve gotten food poisoning in my whole life was in Rwanda. I have such an iron stomach that I was positive I was immune to the water.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Eha
    November 15, 2018

    Welcome home ! I was enthralled by your Instagram photos but not nearly as much as I am by this fascinating post. Politics twice stopped me from reaching Angkor Wat in my early twenties a lifetime ago: since then my interest in the country has widened way beyond that perimeter. Your food photos are fantastic! I have no intolerances and would have dived head first into all you saw: frogs, snails and snakes are old food friends, bugs and rats would have taken a moment to reach for . . . Oh, are you aware how many Australians retire to Cambodia these days for a lifestyle their pension does not allow in Australia . . . ?

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      November 15, 2018

      Thanks Eha, it was an amazing journey. We travelled with Peregrine Adventures and came away feeling as if we’d seen the real Cambodia. We had a first class local guide. The Khmer love Aussies, they feel as if we’ve supported them when others have turned their backs. Yes, quite a large presence there, esp in Siem Reap, Aussie based NGOs and Aussie small businesses. Wasn’t aware it was a haven for retirees although I understand why, the cost lof living is miniscule in comparison to here. I’m no stranger to frogs and snails but rats, just couldn’t bring myself to sample. The whole temple complex encompassing Angkor is extraordinary, but I do think the are going to have to do so ething to control visitor numbers…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eha
        November 16, 2018

        Sandra, if you ever have a moment, click onto the basically free ‘International Living Australia’ newssheet – it arrives almost daily and is a fascinating read of the stories of all the Aussies who have moved to Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam etc in search of a ‘kinder’ lifestyle . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Single Malt Monkey
    November 15, 2018

    I think their resourcefulness will always stay with me. (I don’t think we saw any beggars, for instance. Everyone was selling something.) And I have developed a taste for sticky rice though the fish in our homemade Fisk Amok fell apart. Will have to find a more chunky fish.

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      November 15, 2018

      So good to be able to share our memories on WP Al. I agree, everyone was industriously making their way in the world, no free handouts I guess. Try cooking the Amok sauce without the fish, then adding with just enough time to cook through, oh and avoid stirring, be very gentle. These are a couple tricks I’ve learned making messy Indian fish curries.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Sherry
    November 15, 2018

    not sure i could come at frogs and rats! i guess one should try everything but sometimes it’s just a bit too much. looks like you had a fabulous time of it. did you go alone, or with friends or family? i mean apart from being on the tour…am i making sense?:-) cheers sherry

    Like

    • ladyredspecs
      November 15, 2018

      Haha you are making sense Sherry. Mal and I went to Vietnam with friends then we both joined the tour in Cambodia. I highly recommend Peregrine Adventures for Cambodia. We had a fantastic local guide.

      Like

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This entry was posted on November 15, 2018 by in Cooking, Food, travel and tagged , , , .
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