Low rise Phnom Penh

A visual reminder that the big city of Phnom Penh is more of a low rise sprawl than a dense urban centre.

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It’s SPICY!

This week on the cooking block – Green Mango Salad. Again taking advantage of where I am and, my almost complete lack of knowledge of some ingredients, I popped off to a Khmer cooking class. Held at La Table Khmere on St. 278 above St. 51, you’re in the middle of a very touristy street with aggressive tuk tuks, but once you make it through their barrage you’ll find a nicely set up cooking class with a friendly Khmer chef to show you the way.

We didn’t get a recipe, so from memory, here comes Green Mango Salad.

Green Mango Salad (makes one very large portion)

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1 green mango, shredded using a serrated vegetable peeler
1 large carrot, also shredded using a serrated vegetable peeler
1/4 of a shallot, sliced thinly
1 large sweet pepper, sliced thinly
A handful of Thai basil, torn
1 bird’s eye chilli, sliced thinly (use caution and add only as much as you think you can handle!)
3 tbsp of dried shrimp, soaked in water for 30 mins
2 tbsp roasted peanuts, crushed
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar

Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Squish until the salad becomes moist. Taste and adjust.

That’s it.

Like Thai, Khmer food is about balance of salty, sweet, sour and spicy. More salt? Add fish sauce. Particularly sour mango? More sugar. Find the balance.

I overdid the chilli and my salad came out very, very spicy. Tiger beer required to bring the burning down!

Vicky’s Phnom Penh: Where to Eat – Lunch

Thinking about the lunching options my recommendations are pretty sparse. This is one meal that I don’t go out for a lot. But I’ll dig in my trusty bag o’ tricks and come up with a few!

Lunch

Di Sandro’s
#162, St. 63

In a word, yum! Paninis built with the best Italian ingredients. I wrote a wonderful TripAdvisor review praising its cheese and meat platter and affordable wine that was nixed because I have a property registered on TA in Phnom Penh. Seriously! I understand that you don’t want me black balling other properties but this was a great review…anyway off track.

Paninis are $6 – $7 each. If this is a bit much for you, that’s cool, just recognise that the $6 is buying quality ingredients that are being imported before you complain.

What to eat: Any of the paninis are WONDERFUL.

Digby’s
Corner of St. 63 and St. 306

I was all over Digby’s like a rash for many months after it opened. My ardour has cooled but it remains a pretty good place to grab lunch. Walk into Digby’s and you walk into a San Francisco deli/ cafe. With cool polished concrete, plumbing piping lights, it’s industrial chic. Again, their meat quality is exceptional. They have their own pig farm, butcher their meat and make their own sausages, prosciutto etc. As you may have gathered the store front is part of a larger organisation but that’s for another day.

What to eat: The burger and grab some breakfast sausages to go.

Ga-chi Japanese Noodles
#8o4, St. 128 or starting at Psar Thmey go way, way down Kampuchea Krom

A bit off the beaten track, Ga-chi is worth the hike for a bowl of real ramen noodles. Authentic ramen in a rich miso broth with all the collagen you could hope for. No poorly made, fatty soup here; its luxurious and rich.

What to eat: Start with cucumbers and miso, dip into gyoza because you can and then dive into a big bowl of ramen.

Vicky’s Phnom Penh: Where to Eat – Breakfast

We eat out. A lot. It’s so darn affordable here that there is no reason not to. By the time you have bought your favourite pasta, ingredients for a sauce etc, you have probably spent more than a great meal at a local restaurant. Likely it’s less healthy too.

Based on my love of vibrant flavours, simple decor and how close it is to my house, this is my list of where to eat in Phnom Penh.

Breakfast

Brown Coffee
Start your day at Brown aka the reason Starbucks will never enter this country. Beautifully designed and locally owned, they’re the hipster living room you’ll never have. The coffee is good, the food does OK and the friendliness fantastic (our local Brown bought my son a goldfish, just saying).

Choose from one of 7 locations. We like Brown Pencil (#17, St. 214 (Near Pencil Supermarket and ICS)) and Brown Sotheros (#102, Sothearos Blvd , St. 266) because they’re not overrun with school kids or expats.

What to eat: Pain aux raisins moi and the build your own breakfast sandwich thing.

The Shop
#39, street 240, Phnom Penh

Find a moment of tranquility on St. 240 on the back patio of this cute cafe. Perfect for kids, you will fall in love with fresh baked goods, homemade tapenades (try the sun-dried tomato) and their delectable chocolates.

What to eat: Pancake with fruit, muesli & yoghurt or the Cheese and Chutney on Linseed Bread.

Yi-Sang
Tourist Information Center,
Next to Chatomuk Theater, Riverside Sisowath Quay

Dim sum, dim sum for everyone! There are three Yi Sang’s in the city but we like the one on Sisowath next to Chaktomuk Theater. It’s not so busy in the morning as the one at Almond Hotel (which is absolutely packed) and you have a view of the river/ a summer breeze. From a food perspective, it’s a dim sum place, grab your green tea and dive into dim summy goodness.

What to eat: Steamed BBQ Pork Buns, Pork & Shrimp dumplings, Sesame Balls

Metro
Corner St. 148 & Sisowath Quay

Metro is the grande dame of brunch places. If you’re looking for a long, lazy brunch, that is not a hotel, it’s perfect for people watching, mimosas and a wide range of eggs. It’s not the cheapest spot in the city but the Benedicts are to die for. Healthful hollandaise? Yes please!

What to eat: Passion Fruit Mimosa(s) and the Spinach Eggs Benedict

Now that I’m on a roll, I realise that this may be a very long post so we’re going to break it into meal types. Tomorrow, where to eat lunch.

The education of Vicky Browne

This week I learned, via my nanny’s mother, that pre-packaged coconut milk is a terrible thing. With all sorts of preservatives in it, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. I don’t know if it has preservatives et al but when a Khmer granny tells you it’s no good and there’s an abundance of fresh coconuts, you listen.

Adopting the when in Rome philosophy, the very next lesson was on the short & sweet process of getting fresh coconut milk.

You will need:

  • Muslin cloth
  • A wet market selling fresh grated coconut

Directions:

  • Wrap coconut in clean muslin cloth, twist and squeeze over a bowl. Ta-da fresh coconut milk with a strong, natural flavour.
  • After the first squeezing, get a new bowl and pour a little warm water over coconut and squeeze again. The second squeezing will be less pure than the first and is perfect for things like sweet coconut rice.
  • Reserve dry coconut for baking.

The interweb tells me you can store fresh coconut milk in the fridge for 3 – 4 days. We ate it immediately.

Up next…Thai BBQ’d Chicken

Featuring three ingredients that I’ve never cooked with before, we got a little more complicated tonight with Thai BBQ Chicken.

1. Meet galangal
Say what? Sounds like a whole mouthful of ga. Galangal, ginger’s erstwhile, stronger and harder cousin. Holy Hannah, trying to grate this rhizome is like trying to grate a brick. It had me wishing for the ginger grater packed in my Vancouver storage container. It also packs a punch (eating it raw to find this out was less than a good idea); I used it sparingly not knowing how potent the cooked version would be.

2. Familiar face, unfamiliar roots
Bring on the coriander. Much of Thai cooking features coriander roots and stalks. The parts that we usually throw away/ don’t see. I’m not sure how the flavour profile changes but I chopped my roots and stalks into itty bitty bits as instructed.

3. La-di-da-di Lemon grass
I’ve eaten lots of lovely lemon grass dishes but never used it myself. Take several lemon grass sticks, give them a firm thumping to release the flavour, top and tail, peel outside woody layers and chop, chop, chop. Can’t emphasize the chopping enough. Roughly chopped lemon grass ala moi has the great smell but is woodenly unpleasant to chew. This is the part where I miss the blender/ Flavour Shaker that is also sitting in a Vancouver storage container.

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Top left, galangal with my coriander. Lemon grass loveliness.

Take all the wonderful ingredients, chop or pound them, mix with coconut milk and marinade that chicken. I put it in the fridge overnight. Then, as I do not own a BBQ, I baked the chicken in the oven for 45 mins. My oven doesn’t have a temperature gauge, it’s either on or off, but I guess it was somewhere in the 400F range…

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Chicken in the pan. Eaten too quickly for any pretty on the plate pics.

It was wonderful. A beautiful fragrant dish with coconut richness that got a HUGE thumbs up from the boys.  They can’t wait for me to make it again.

Aside from the initial chopping bits, which could be overcome with proper equipment, it was easy as pie

Thai BBQ’d Chicken
12 cm lemon grass stalk, finely sliced
5 cm piece of fresh galangal, peeled, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 shallots, finely chopped
4 coriander roots and stalks, finely chopped
1.5kg of chicken
150 ml thick coconut milk
1.5 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp black pepper
lime wedges to serve

Pound the lemon grass, galangal, garlic, shallots and coriander with a pestle or mortar or use a food processor to blend into a paste. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and pepper and mix. Pour over the chicken and marinade at least 3 hours or overnight turning occasionally.

Remove chicken from marinade, place it on hot BBQ and cooks for 10 – 15 minutes for chicken pieces turning and basting regularly.

Leave the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with Sweet Chilli Sauce, lime wedges and white rice.

What’s cooking?

We’ve been in Cambodia for almost a year and in that time I have done a woeful amount of Asian cooking. I’ve bellyached my way through the supermarkets with their small range of Western goods, cooked conservatively and blamed my simple kitchen for my simple cooking.

Time for a change.

A visit to Thailand, a bookstore and many recipe books later, I am inspired to use the unfamiliar ingredients on my doorstep that I’ve pointedly ignored. A note, I’m experimenting with Thai rather than Khmer food because I like Thai better. It has more kick. As we have a toddler in the house who needs to eat with us, we’re amping up the heat with chilli on the side rather than in the dish.

We start the odyssey with simple – Beef with Black Bean Sauce.

Step one, acquire all ingredients. Step one point one, make a shopping list for the wet market outside my house with my nanny and Google images. My nanny does all our market shopping as she can speak Khmer, will get a better deal, actually knows what she’s looking at and whether it’s ready to eat. In the past we have had hilarious, what-are-you-a-five-year-old conversations about things like when the green bananas she bought were ready to eat. “They’re ready now Vicky. This is the type of banana that is always green.”  Duh.

After that segue way, we got the ingredients, had a laugh that while leeks and spring onions look the same, one is an order of magnitude bigger than the other. Went back to the market to buy the actual spring onions. And now, ready, set, cook!

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Top left the troublesome leek & spring onions, bottom, ingredients ready to go and the finished product.

Final thoughts, this was way easy. Combined with my new rice cooker, which I love, it was a fast, delicious meal.

Husband approved. Toddler ho hummed.

Beef with Black Bean Sauce
1.5 – 2 tbsp black bean sauce, roughly mashed
100 ml beef stock
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
.5 tbsp cornflour
1.5 tbsp sunflower oil
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red pepper
1 onion, thinly sliced
2-3 spring onions, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
coriander leaves, to garnish

Mix the black bean sauce , stock, fish sauce, oyster sauce and cornflour together in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and stir fry garlic over medium heat 1 – 2 minutes. Add the beef and stir fry for 4 – 5 minutes.

Add the pepper & onion and stir fry for 3 – 4 minutes. Add the black bean sauce mixture and spring onion and toss together. Taste and adjust.

Serve over rice and garnish with coriander.

Demonstration Advisory

Today’s message from the government of Canada:

MESSAGE FROM THE EMBASSY OF CANADA: Please be advised that political demonstrations continue in Cambodia and there have been incidents of violence resulting in deaths. Avoid large gatherings and follow local media.

Today’s view on the roads:

The story so far, political demonstrations continue. Rolling demonstrations of up to 100,000 have asked for Hun Sen to step down.

Last week the garment factory workers went on to strike to ask for a living wage. They currently make $95 per month which is just enough to survive if you live four to a room and eat the cheapest of the cheap food. Yesterday things turned ugly when 4 workers were killed by police and 23 injured.

More demonstrations today hence the advisory and white helmeted riot police that have become a fixture in PP.

Rolling, rolling down the river

Making our way down one of the many flooded streets yesterday. It takes some tuk tuk driver skill to navigate the waters without flooding the engine.

PS In case you were concerned, all this water is just localized flooding as a result of a heavy rainstorm. We have not been affected by the flooding that is occurring in much of the rest of the region. It is also a demonstration of why the curbs are a foot high.