MAZWO on Tour: Cambodia
Cambodian food was a little disappointing to say the least. I had high hopes for it, believing it would be a fusion between neighbouring Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, but sadly I was left disappointed and a bit on the hungry side!
We began our tour in Siem Reap in the west and luckily the food here was much better than the east. Here we tried a Khmer steak which was delicious – steak in a spicy peppercorn sauce. It was full of flavour, but as usual in Asia, the beef is overcooked to prevent food poisoning and disease.
We also tried a Khmer pizza, which had a topping of fried onion, chicken, pepper and a dusting of cheese on a bread base, as well as trying a Khmer baked dish which was similar to moussaka. It was layers of aubergine with a tomato sauce which was strongly flavoured with star anise and herbs with a layer of melted cheese on top.
One of the most delicious foods is Amok Curry. It’s a simple curry sauce made with shallots, lemongrass, garlic and kaffir lime leaves, as well as crushed peanuts, coconut milk and sometimes egg. It can be made with fish, meat or veg and is cooked in a banana leaf giving it a really concentrated flavour. One other thing which the Cambodians are famous for is Lok Lak which is a kind of stir fry, but we didn’t get round to trying this.
We headed to the coast, a town called Sihanoukville, where barbecues seem to be the general order of things. Fish is easily available and you’re able to see that the food is all fresh as you choose what you eat. We survived here, being able to eat fresh meat and fish with simple baked potatoes. You also got a lot of food for your money! There were plenty of gluten free options as you knew exactly what you were eating.
Phnom Penh, the capital, left us the hungriest though. We ate at traditional Khmer restaurants whilst here, and that could explain why we struggled so much! One evening we visited a restaurant where you could eat frog, duck tongue, eel, snails; you name it, if it moved, it was on the menu! We went for a safe option and tried quail in a spicy stir fry with kaffir lime leaves and hot chillies. It would’ve been delicious, had the quail been off the bone (and the heads and feet hadn’t been left on!). We also tried a beef stew which was nice, though very tough, in a ginger, spring onion and chilli broth. We tasted the delights of squid, also with chilli, and duck in a sticky sauce but there were far too many bones involved to eat it and enjoy it, and our last night was spent BBQing our own beef at a local restaurant.
The food has been somewhat mixed. Siem Reap was just about manageable, but that’s probably because a lot of dishes have been modified to fit western tastebuds. The rest left a little more to be desired!
Wish me luck in Vietnam!