Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Food Glorious Food!

 This is a post I started last year, but didn't complete.  Although some of the pictures are from last year, the content is still relevant, so I've decided to update what I'd written, and add a little bit more 'flavour' to the pot.  Hope you enjoy this journey into the culinary delights of Cambodia.
Sign above a restaurant In Pub Street area
A couple of years back, when I anncounced we were headed to Cambodia to volunteer for tthe winter, I received an email from a friend saying "I hope you like rice".  I still chuckle about it, because he was so right.  In this part of the world, rice is served with just about everything, and I never dreamed I'd consume so much of it!! 

Rice is a staple in Cambodia.  Most people eat rice three meals a day (if they're lucky to get three meals), usually mixed with a little bit of meat and vegetables.  At Honour Village, a 50 Kg (110 lb) sack of rice lasts less than 2 days - (46 kids and about 12 adults, three meals a day). 

 I used to wonder how Cambodians manage to stay so thin when they eat so much rice, but living here for a while has given me a whole  different perspective.  Cambodians work very hard, mostly manual labour.  Many walk or cycle wherever they go.  Many don't get 3 meals a day, and snacking is rare.  Many suffer from chronic intestinal maladies.  I suppose under the same  circumstances, we'd probably be thin too.

Whenever I go to a different part of the world, I like to eat the local food, and that goes especially for Cambodia.  I figure I can get Western food at home anytime, anywhere, but I can only get authentic Khmer food here.  It's delicious, and although we make concerted efforts to duplicate them at home, we still haven't quite mastered the recipes.

The first year we were in Cambodia, our guesthouse didn't provide breakfast, so we almost always went out early in the morning for noodle soup.  The guesthouse we now stay at provides free breakfast buffet, which has a variety of tradional western breakfast food - juice, coffee, tea, toast, cereal, eggs, fruit - and some less usual choices - fried rice, fried noodles with vegetables, congee (rice porridge), and chicken 'sausages' (actually mini hotdog wieners).  They alternate between French toast or delicious banana pancakes, both hard to resist when drizzled with 'honey' (thick syrup made from sugar palm - yummmm).  Fruit choices are usually sliced dragon fruit, watermelon or fresh pineapple, and pint-sized bananas that you pull right off a giant stalk.  I still prefer noodle soup over western breakfast, but  I also prefer 'free' over 'paying', so we mostly eat breakfast at our guesthouse.

Noodle soup with pork balls and 'fry bread'
(tastes like a yeast doughnut without the honey glaze)
The reddish piece  in the bowl is either a big hunk of liver or clotted blood....
One of the few things I haven't managed to get past my lips yet.  I give that part to Gordon. 
Buffet breakfast at MotherHome Guesthouse

On days when we work at Honour Village (5 to 6 days a week), we eat the same lunch as the kids do. The cooks prepares a huge pot of rice, and a huge pot of soup, consisting of vegetables, some meat or fish, and a variety of wonderful herbs and spices.  Dessert, if they're lucky, is almost always a banana.  (Bananas here are typically smaller than the bananas we get at home - the same thickness, but about half the length).

At  the outset, food at Honour Village was prepared outside under a canopy, cooked over a wood fire.  In the past year, they've progressed to cooking over a wood fire indoors, and most recently upgraded to cooking with gas, a luxury provided by a generous donor. 

Wonderful blend of herbs & spices for the soup

Each child gets a bowl of rice with one bowl of soup  shared between two.
Refills keep coming as long as they keep eating.

The adults eat at a separate table.
Usually there are about 10-12 staff & 6-8 volunteers.
On this particular day, we had a lot of visitors as well.
These two little girls put away four large bowls of rice and soup each. 
Neither one of them weighs more than 35 lbs (16 kilos) soaking wet. 
Where do they put it all?

On days we're not working at the orphanage, we go out for lunch, and we usually go somewhere different for dinner every night.  We love Khmer food, but we occasionally opt for Thai, Indian, Mexican or Burmese.  No matter what ethnic food you crave, it's available in Siem Reap.  If you watch for special deals, like $1.00 tapas, and stick to smaller establishments slightly off the beaten path, you'll end up getting a fabulous meal for two persons (including 2 glasses of wine) for under $10.  The food is so tasty and so inexpensive, it's easy to understand why I went back home last year 10 lbs heavier than when  I'd arrived!

Half the fun of going to Little India
is seeing a Cambodian waitress wearing a sari

The food here was fantastic and really inexpensive. 
We especially loved the Eggplant Stew and the Tea Leaf Salad.
How sad to discover the restaurant was gone this year!
This plate of fried spring rolls looks like something straight out of a gourmet magazine.
In fact, we get this at a tiny restaurant around the corner from our guesthouse.
Helen Cafe - Price: under $2.00

I love food, and I'm not too afraid to wander into new areas of eating, but I have to admit, Cambodia has foods that I can't swallow won't try, not just yet anyway.  There's a whole variety to choose from - snakes, spiders, crickets, grubs, duck egg fetuses, cow uterus, red ant sauce (tried that).  I'm sure they're fine, and people tell me they're tasty, but I can't seem to get them past my lips when the brain screams "No!"

Clockwise starting from top left:
BBQ Beetles, BBQ Crickets (grasshoppers?), BBQ snake, Deep-fried battered little birds..
The locals love them!

As in a lot of under-developed countries, there are a few food rules we  have to abide by here.  Sanitation is just not the same as it is at home, so we have to be careful where and what we eat.  We know that and we just accept it.  We avoid buying food from street vendors, except for BBQ bananas or sticky rice, which we know are safe. 

A typical roadside 'restaurant' that serves up quick orders of rice or noodle dishes.
We avoid them even though the food is really inexpensive.

Doesn't look too appetizing does it? 
A burnt cabbage roll maybe?

Nope.  It's a package of 'banana sticky rice'. 
A small banana encased in sweet coconut-flavoured rice,
wrapped up in a banana leaf, and roasted over charcoal.
Absolutely scrumptious!

I have a confession to make.  Lately I've been getting a little cocky about eating raw vegetables, and having ice in my drinks, and drinking filtered water rather than bottled water, and now I'm paying for it.  In the past few days, I've had to make sure I'm within sprinting distance of a bathroom, and I've been breaking out the boxes of bismuth tablets.  One thing is certain, if this keeps up, there's a good chance I won't gain any weight while I'm here this year!

On the other hand.....
'Balck Sesame-Ginger'  ice cream from the Blue Pumpkin
may just end up being my downfall.........

1 comment:

  1. When I was in Cambodia I was still recovering from my first, and worst, food borne illness which I picked up in Bangkok despite major attempts at staying safe. So I didn't have the chance to sample much. Might as well just suffer through it and get it behind you (pun intended ;))

    The scariest street food was in Mandalay, Burma. Even the locals stayed clear. Also found the non-street food there to be quite problematic. Otherwise, street food rules! Don;t know about Cambodia, but hope I get to find out next year.

    Hope you recover quickly so you can resume your experimenting.