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.

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.

A world of food

It has been a big week for Khmer BBQ and other Khmer food fun. I wouldn’t say that Khmer is my favourite cuisine. There are a lot of tastes you need to have grown up with to really enjoy (or have spent considerably longer in country). Pra hok (fermented fish paste) is one, fish stomach & a variety of other fish entrails is another, green beans and bean curd isn’t so great either but Khmer food is good for you. There is almost no fat and no sugar in a traditional diet full of soups, fish and rice.

In the week that was, we went to the BBQ restaurant to see the little birds which I’ve finally figured out are quail (sing hallelujah, she finally puts it together) with their friends langoustine and my personal, safe friend, fried rice. All accompanied by a salt, pepper, MSG & lime juice dipping sauce that is to die for!

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Ready, set, BBQ. Dinner is on the grill!

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Whole quail chopped into quarters ready for the eating. They say Khmers like to chew their food. Yes, that would be my experience. Hard not to as you navigate around a maze of bone.

Next we were off to another BBQ joint for a birthday and the delight of grilled bees. Before you scroll down – I will let you in on the mental image I had for this delicacy – glorious, grilled, fat & furry bumblebees. In a country of beef & flying ants and crunchy bar snack crickets this is not out of the question. Wrong! Now scroll.

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Grilled bees…a-hem…grilled wasp larvae in their paper hive. Taste, sweet & slightly grainy. Was really hoping to avoid these but my team made sure that I didn’t miss this signature dish

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Hilariously this was the sign on the back of their bathroom door.

Last but not least we had lunch in a house on stilts on the Mekong River with all our staff. Traditional Khmer building with wooden floors, a deliciously cool breeze and hammocks for the hungover.

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The team and the view out over the river.

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Salt baked river fish with sour mango salsa (YUM! Not as muddy tasting as many of the fresh water fish dishes), Little dried shrimp, mango and something salad (descriptive hey? Often I have no idea what I am eating) and to finish this photo off, chicken with hair, don’t be silly, chicken with deep fried lemongrass. Again the chicken is chopped Chinese style so it’s very bony and there were feet.

As I said an exceptional week of food. Most weeks look more like this…

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Open faced poached eggs, seared tuna on black beans and pepper fried tofu.

Dried Beef

Greyhound Cafe in Bangkok. Dried beef with fried rice. Like beef jerky over rice strewn with green chillies. Spicy! Served with clear soup (chicken?), fish sauce with chillies and just in case you didn’t have enough heat, more chillies. I would eat it again.  So would my toddler minus the hot rice.

The month that was

I’ve been a bad blogger. I can only attribute my MIA-ness to what I’ve dubbed “enforced bulima”. It has been a bad month on the stomach front. Caste iron stomach, ha ha ha, no.

If I had been blogging or tweeting or facebooking (all of which I was doing in my head while recovering from my talks with the big white telephone) it would have read something like this:

“It’s a Cambodia diet day. Stomach cramps ‘r us”

“Oooh, my body hates me. Violently opposed to something I ate.”

“Gastro, no power, no water. Things do come in threes.”

This was the point where some chop in Vietnam ran into a main power line disrupting electricity to southern Vietnam and swathes of Cambodia. The water pumps run on electricity so shortly thereafter no water. Just want you want while in the midst of a terrible stomach ailment.

“This sucks.”

And then a long silence as my son got the gastro, we eventually went to the doctor to make sure it was some strange diseases (we’ve already had amoebic dysentery in this house) and we slowly came back into the land of the living.

Two weeks later and we’re back in stomach cramping, yuck territory hoping, nay praying, that it wouldn’t take us out for another week. And what do you know, just two days of uncomfortableness and it passed.

I can confidently say that if this keeps up I won’t ever have to worry about my weight. However, I am hoping that at some point our collective system sucks it up and acclimatizes. The sooner, the better.

Shunt for blood tests etc and then the wonderfulness of Smecta. "Promotes intestinal health". It's clay that you mix with water and drink. The manufacturers say "It has a pleasing vanilla/orange taste" but in reality, it tastes like sand in a glass.

Shunt for blood tests etc and then the wonderfulness of Smecta to “promote intestinal health”. It’s clay that you mix with water and drink. The manufacturers say “It has a pleasing vanilla/orange taste” but in reality it tastes exactly like what it is – sand in a glass. Sand in a glass that works. Keep on drinking.

A chef in our midst

This last week we had a visiting chef on board to help us look at our menus and it was wonderful. Thailand’s answer to Gordon Ramsey (with less swearing and more smiling) is Chef McDang. He LOVES food and it’s infectious. Hard not to be affected when there’s so much enthusiasm behind it.

We started the visit at the wet market behind our apartment. A moment to discover what you can get locally. 100 mile diet? Oh yes. For me, it was like having a market interpreter. Here was someone who knew that this was young ginger, this thing over here, a banana flower, oh, oh and look at the palm sugar. Here in its more runny state and when whipped and aerated it is more like brown sugar. When I’ve lamented the lack of Western ingredients, my Mom has asked why not cook with local ingredients? Until now I haven’t known what I am looking at in the bewildering array of green, fish and animal parts. Never mind how to cook it. One step further down the path.

Inspired by the market, part two of the visit, glorious, delicious dishes. Braised beef tongue, prawns on sautéed lotus root, ham and cheese eclairs, leek salad. A little French, a little Thai, a little Khmer. A lot yum. Felt apprehensive about the tongue, not usually in the repertoire, but it was fall apart fantastic while the lotus roots, also new to me, had just the right amount of crunch.

I am inspired.

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In the green corner – aubergine, okra, lotus root. In the red corner – sausages and salted fish transitioning into all the pig parts you can possibly imagine.

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Big fish, little fish, salted fish

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Chef McDang with mushroom risotto spring rolls on mashed pumpkin and sour mango, cheese and ham eclairs and prawns on sauteed lotus root