Over the winter holiday, my boyfriend and I packed our bags and took off to Cambodia for 9 days. It was a new adventure for the both of us, as Cambodia had been on our hit list for a few years. We flew directly into Siem Reap, and explored the ancient, breath-taking temples and relics of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Bayon (to name only a few). We also lazily strolled pub street at night, while hitting up the night markets.
We fell in love with the city, food, and its locals. Such an air of genuineness was felt throughout the city, and smiles from everyone we passed. Siem Reap was a city that I will most definitely visit again. I feel like we barely scratched the surface in what we could have seen or done. Only after 3 days of adventuring, we were off to Sihanoukville.
Nick and I stayed at a beautiful bungalow resort called Sahaa Beach Resort, and enjoyed every minute of it. Sahaa is on Otres 1 beach, which is farther away from the Thai-style beach party atmosphere of Occheuteal beach. We were looking for more of a laid-back vibe, somewhere where we could truly unwind. Besides devouring coconuts, amok, and fresh fruit smoothies all day, we also visited the Otres Market (highly recommend – super cool market with many goodies to buy such as skin creams, essential oils, crystal jewelry, and funky art), ventured throughout the town on our scooter, and took a Khmer-style cooking class.
I wasn’t exactly sure what the food in Cambodia would be like. I had some strange expectation of it being a Thai-Vietnamese hybrid cuisine, but I was quickly proven wrong. Khmer food is sweeter than Thai, more herbaceous (?) than Vietnamese, and some dishes actually have a heavy French influence.
I am going to share three recipes with you from our cooking class at the Don Bosco Hotel School in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The recipes, as per usual, we deliciously fresh and satisfying. However, if I were to judge this cooking experience as a whole, it was not as fulfilling as previous ones. The staff and our teacher were very forgiving and patient, but the class was more teacher-led than student-led. Nick and I did a lot more watching than doing, which was unfortunate because we like to get our hands dirty.
Appetizer: Banh Xeo (Khmer Meat Crepe)
INGREDIENTS – Meat Mixture
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
250g ground pork or beef (we used pork)
250g ground shrimp, de-veined, peeled, and ground
2 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tbsp white sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
INGREDIENTS – Banh Xeo Crepe Batter
170g rice flour
50g coconut milk
30g fresh turmeric, or turmeric powder
5 stalks of green onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
450g beansprouts, washed
150g cooking oil for frying (vegetable oil)
2-3 whole eggs
1. Pre-heat large skillet or wok at high temperature. When skillet is hot, add 2 tbsp oil, garlic, onion, and ground meat (pork or beef). Stir well.
2. When meat is cooked, add ground shrimp, and stir well until shrimp turns pink. Season with fish sauce, sugar, and black pepper. Stir well, turn off stove, and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, mix rice flour with turmeric powder, sugar, salt, water, coconut milk, and green onions. Set aside.
4. Pre-heat a non-stick skillet or wok to medium-high temperature. Add 1-2 tsp of oil and coat skillet or wok evenly with brush.
5. Pour 1/2 cup of crepe batter into skillet, and using a “twisting/turning” circular motion, coat the skillet evenly with the batter. When crepe looks cooked, add the meat mixture into the middle of the crepe, add beansprouts, and cover crepe with a lid for 1-2 minutes or until the bottom of the crepe turns golden brown.
6. Take off lid and flip 1/2 of the crepe sheet over the meat mixture, and press down on the top of the crepe gently with a flipper (spatula). Transfer carefully to plate and serve with tirk trey chu p’em (sweet fish sauce – recipe below)!
*Khmer people, as so our teacher told us, like to wrap a piece of crepe in romain lettuce with slices of cucumber and fresh mint or cilantro, and then dip it in the sweet fish sauce.
Dipping Sauce: Tirk Trey Chu P’em (Sweet Fish Sauce)
100g hot water
30g palm sugar or white sugar (use palm if available)
15g fresh lime juice (approximately 2 small limes)
30g fish sauce
1 hot chili pepper, chopped (add as much as you can handle)
30g roasted peanuts, crushed
50g coconut milk
1. In a small bowl, mix hot water with sugar until dissolved.
2. Add lime juice, fish sauce, and hot chili pepper. Stir well and set aside to cool.
3. Top with peanuts right before serving.
Main Course: Fish Amok
(This picture is from www.experiencetravelgroup.com – but our amok looked exactly the same!)
INGREDIENTS – Curry Paste
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3 stalks lemongrass, ends trimmed (inner ends only), finely chopped
1/2 inch piece galangal, finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp salt
2 tsp chili paste (like Sambal Oelek)
INGREDIENTS – Fish Amok
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp shrimp paste (optional, or can substitute with anchovy paste)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp palm sugar or white sugar
1 tsp salt
400g white fish, skim removed
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 kaffir lime leaf, sliced into ribbons
Use a mortar and pestle if possible, or else use a food processor.
1. Place the first 5 ingredients into a mortar and pestle and pound to a paste. Add the remaining ingredients and pound until all of the spices are well incorporated.
1. Thinly slice fish into 3/4 inch thick bite sized pieces and set aside. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
2. Add the curry paste from above, and cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimp paste, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and whisk to combine. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 2 minutes, whisking occasionally.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the egg mixture into the saucepan and gently fold it into the curry.
4. Add the fish and kaffir leaf, gently folding the fish into the curry sauce with wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Let the amok sit and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through.
5. Turn off the heat, and serve amok in a bowl with a spoonful of coconut cream (the thick cream that rises to the top of the remaining coconut milk). Add a few julienned red pepper pieces, and enjoy!
Website for Don Bosco Cooking School: www.donboscohotelschool.com
*If you are going to give the class a try, make sure to try their homemade gelato!!
Nick and I wrapped up our holiday trip with a short visit to the country’s capital city, Phnom Penh. With just over 24 hours to see as much as we possibly could, we knew that we had to make the humbling and somber visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Otherwise known as S-21 (Security Prison 21), the Tuol Sleng Museum was a former high school-turned execution and torture centre during the Khmer Rouge “revolution”. More than 17 000 people were held at S-21, and were later either killed there or in the killing fields only a few kilometers away.
Although it was one of the most deeply depressing experiences I have ever had, it was very educational and I learned a lot about what took place in Cambodia during the 1970’s. Sadly, these events did not happen that long ago. The photographs of the prisoners of S-21 will be in my mind forever.