Cambodian Food Safari Part 1

Hello!

I am back from a very long gap – for which I have no excuse except that I am incredibly lazy!

But it’s the new year and new years are about new beginnings – or just rebooting projects from last year that inevitably fizzled out. So, encouraged by the occasional person who asks me “Hey, what happened to that food blog of yours?” I’m back.

Since getting married (and taking on everything that comes with it ie. mortgage and a seemingly endless list of money-sucking bills) the fine dining part of my life has been reduced to almost zero. “Eating out” now means $8 rump night at the Tollgate Hotel which, as much as I love it, isn’t the most blog-worthy meal. But having travelled to Cambodia over the summer, I do have a few posts up my sleeve to celebrate Khmer cuisine: the poorer, lesser known brother of Thai and Vietnamese food.

Before leaving for Cambodia, I had grand plans to “eat my way through Phnom Pemnh” as though I was filming a Food Safari-esque show about the delights of Khmer cuisine – but sadly due to a lack of time and sickness knocking me out for a few whole days, I only ended up going to a few restaurants. And in Cambodia, every restaurant feels like a “splurge” because even though mains are a dirt cheap $5-$7 at the nicest, westernised places, it seems hard to justify when you can a really good meal at a food court or a road-side eatery with red plastic chairs for about $1.

But I’ll save the restaurants for a later post – I wanted to first dedicate a post to some of the more “street” food I ate.

Last time I was in Cambodia, every morning we went to a local place on a street corner to have one of two meals for breakfast: beef ball rice noodle soup or fried pork with rice. As a noodle soup LOVER I opted for the beef ball soup (not the more popular choice – unlike most Asians, Koreans seem to have an aversion to ball-shaped meat) and it was one of the things I was most looking forward to eating again. Pretty much as soon as I got there I was like “WHEN CAN I EAT BEEF BALL NOODLES???” and our hosts recommended a nearby breakfast restaurant.

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Kuy Teav 

I’m usually an eggs&bacon girl but I could totally get used to beef noodle soup for breakfast every day!! I guess this is like Cambodia’s version of pho – but (dare I say) BETTER? Unlike pho broth which is beef based, Kuy Teav’s broth is made from pork bone, and as you can see from the colour of the soup, its much richer and more flavourful. It’s like a pho/tonkotsu fusion!! Topped with rare beef and beef balls – basically noodle soup nirvana. And having very recently visited the “best pho in Sydney” contenders Pho An and Gia Hoi for the first time – I can hand-on-heart say that Kuy Teav knocks both out of the park. And it costs $2.

Another really memorable meal we had came as a complete surprise. We were at a village playing games and doing arts&crafts for the kids when we were told we had to finish early because we were having “fellowship time”. We walked back to the main house to see the family preparing a feast of curry noodles for us!! I was really excited about this because I hadn’t been eating as much authentic Khmer cuisine as I had wanted – where we were staying we were self-catering, and because we had no idea how to navigate the Cambodian grocery markets, we shopped at tourist supermarket “Lucky Mart”.

The dish they were preparing was Num banh chok – rice noodles with a rich chicken curry poured on top. They laid it all out sharing style with MOUNTAINS of rice noodles and big steaming bowls of orange curry. They had also chopped up fresh bean sprouts and greens for us – which I was warned against eating because they were unlikely to be washed with clean water, but then I thought, this is not a time to be precious about food hygiene. The chicken in the curry had probably been running around our feet half an hour ago, and the family’s “pet” was a massive pig housed in a one-metre squared pen with bloody sores all over its pink flesh. This is Cambodia. Eat the delicious, generously offered curry – what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing that a full course of antibiotics can’t fix!

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On the last day of our trip, we were in Phnom Penh and trying to get rid of all our Cambodian riel. I was insistent that I needed to eat pork roll before we left, and Matt kept reminding me to save 10,000 riel because there was a place nearby our hotel that sold rolls for 5,000 riel (just over $1) each. For some reason, I understood “10,000” to mean “1,000” so kept spending our cash and only realised my mistake when we were down to our last 5,000. 😦 Well, at least we could share one.

Once we got to the shop, to our DELIGHT, we saw that the 5,000 riel was for a full-baguette length roll, so we were able to afford one half-length lunch-sized roll each. Happy days! The shop we went to must be the cleanest Num Pang place in all of Cambodia – they actually had a massive cooler to store their Pâté and meat. Good, at least I can be confident that I won’t be suffering on the plane ride home.

Although it’s just a sandwich, the ingredients of num pang are a bit of a mystery. The lady first spreads a golden substance on the baguette – doesn’t quite look like butter, more like honey? Still haven’t figured that out. Then she slices up three different types of processed meat. Chicken, pork and beef? Pork, pork and pork? Who knows. The best part though are the cute little plastic bags filled with the papaya salad and chilli – so the bun won’t get soggy in transit. The Cambodians know how to respect a baguette! The result:

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Hands down the best thing I ate in Cambodia. And the best pork roll I’ve ever had. This is how pork roll is meant to be enjoyed – in a fresh, crusty, perfect French baguette. I don’t know how or why this baguette has been replaced with chewy “hot bread” in Australia – surely it isn’t that much harder to make! And the papaya salad! So fresh and tangy – it’s one of my new favourite things. Are there any Banh Mi places in Sydney that use green papaya?? If not, there should be. Someone needs to bring this to Sydney. And I know it’s a good idea because it’s already been done in New York. Okay, give me a few years and a few hundred Gs and I’ll make it happen!!

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2 thoughts on “Cambodian Food Safari Part 1

  1. Rach says:

    Yay to the revival of this blog!

  2. Esther says:

    Looking back on this makes me miss Cambodia 😦 and makes me miss you Heather. Hope you are well!!

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