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!


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.


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.

Royal Rattanak for the win

On the subject of health care for small children, it is Royal Rattanak for the win. If you’re familiar with some of my previous posts you will know that we have visited a whole slew of doctors here in Phnom Penh and been generally underwhelmed/ worried that they had no idea/ annoyed at the lack of bedside manner. It turns out that the nurse laughing at your child’s screaming cries is not endearing.

We were leery of Royal Rattanak. The Cambodian Parents Network (if you’re in Cambodia and not a part of this Yahoo group, you should be. It’s a wealth of info), anyhow, the overall feeling of the CPN was that it was expensive. Having been there twice for routine visits, I can say they’re quiet comparable to the doctors in BKK and I feel like they know what they’re doing. They act like doctors. They’re organized. They make recommendations that seem within the bounds of reason. Peace of mind for the few extra bucks is a trade off I’m willing to make.

Mind you, I’m still adjusting to the private healthcare model. Oh, BC medical system how we under appreciated you. Socialized medical care is AMAZING yo. If you don’t believe me come to a country where you have to pay for things like routine vaccinations. Suddenly the 8 free vaccinations Christopher got in BC for the nasty childhood diseases of old like polio, measles etc seems pretty awesome. You don’t need to come to Cambodia for this experience though. It’s just across the border in the US. Any debates we may have had re private medical vs. socialised care with longish wait times has been erased. I’ll take socialised please especially at this stage of life.

A plague on your house

It was a rough week in Phnom Penh. My toddler, Christopher, got a bacterial gastro thing and then my husband, Greg, got it too and was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery (an inflammatory disorder of the intestine caused by, you guessed it, amoeba). Luckily it happened one after the other rather than at the same time.

It was a week that highlighted one of our key concerns in moving here – health.

Number one, is all the wonderful diseases that we could catch. I feel well equipped to deal with childhood diseases and the common cold but a little less well equipped to deal with things like malaria or dengue or…amoebic dysentery. When the fever hits 40C and won’t come down, I’m not thinking childhood diseases anymore. I’m plagued by the possibilities of all the diseases endemic to developing countries.

Number two, the quality of healthcare available. We will get sick. This is our ability to deal with it. Last year we found an Australian nurse who worked at a pediatric clinic that we liked. She was competent. When Christopher was sick we headed back to her clinic but, as she wasn’t there, we were treated by a Khmer doctor. Maybe it’s the language barrier, maybe it’s a culture/bedside manner issue or maybe it’s the six long times it took to find Christopher’s vein for a blood sample while he had to be physically held down but I just can’t trust. The diagnosis was correct, the treatment was correct and I will be looking for a Western doctor. It’s a me thing but we’re talking about the health of my child.

When Greg went down we headed to the SOS International Clinic where they provided us with excellent care at shockingly high price. Not shocking if you live in the US but if you’re used to the Canadian system it’s gasp worthy. Drips and a battery of tests to find out exactly what was wrong don’t come cheap.

Number three, the lack of a network to support us when these types of things happen. I write this after we were up with Christopher for three nights and then had to go to the international clinic for Greg. Christopher’s running around the clinic at 11pm like a mad thing while Greg lies in bed with a drip and there was no one to turn to for help. It was a lonely moment.