Cambodia Eats: Or the Time I Ate a Spider
Yes, that is me. Yes, that is me holding a deep fried spider. Yes, that is the face of uncertainty, despair, curiosity and peer pressure all rolled into one. Really, I shouldn’t be so apprehensive about a spider, I did drink cobra blood already. Plus, I was the girl in college who was summoned to kill spiders for other people. I had eaten ants before at summer camp during a survival clinic. So I guess spiders were a logical progression? Plus they came on a nice plate with a dipping sauce! When Victor and I heard that insects were part of the menu in Cambodia we were both curious. They are a good source of protein and when anything is fried and seasoned it can’t be half bad, right?
So while we were in Phnom Penh we had dinner at Romdeng (74 Ph 174) and ordered some spiders. To be honest, they didn’t taste like much except for that fried taste you get whenever you deep fry something.
Just when I thought the worst was over, one of the chefs passed by our table and stopped right by me. He had a live spider crawling up his arm and held it towards my face. I shrieked so loud the whole restaurant turned to look and laugh at me. So much for keeping a cool demeanor.
While we traveled by bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, we stopped to have lunch and we walked by many road side stands selling insects of all kinds for snacks:
Alright, I admit it: I put the bugs up top to drag you in. We ate a lot of terrific food while in Cambodia and none of the rest of it involved insects of any sort. Before traveling to Cambodia, I had never been exposed to any Cambodian cuisine. If I had to give a very general description, I would say it has elements of both Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, its neighbors. There were plenty of vegetables and fresh salad dishes, so I was happy for the break from deep fried.
Amok was on my list of Cambodian dishes to try. Amok is a curry dish, usually with fish but I saw many options on menus. The fish is steamed in banana leaves and the curry gets a mousse-like quality. I really enjoyed this:
Lok lak was another well-known dish I heard I should try. Cubed beef cooked in an oyster-like sauce — this dish is definitely for people who want some protein:
We also sampled bahn chao, which was very similar to Vietnamese-style crepes I’ve had before:
Remember that lunch I mentioned having with Sophon on the way back from the floating village? Well, I told Sophon I wanted to go to a spot he and his friends lunch at. So we pulled up to a typical roadside restaurant and we let Sophon do the ordering. We got to try the Cambodian version of a sweet and sour soup:
Our waiter brought a plate with ice and raw vegetables as well as a vegetable pancake:
A delicious pork and pineapple dish:
In the back, this restaurant had some of the largest soup pots I have ever seen in my life.
In Phnom Penh we went to a fancy dinner at Malis (136 Norodom Blvd). We ordered a beef cooked in bamboo which was our favorite of the night:
At many places, we were given small dishes with a fermented cabbage salad to start. It wasn’t anything like kimchi but I enjoyed it a lot:
At Malis we also tried a deep fried fish dish that was way too salty for my taste:
Before dinner we walked around the Phnom Penh Night Market. I was in foodie heaven watching everyone cooking:
Beer-wise, you have some options in Cambodia, but like most of Southeast Asia, the light pilsner beers are nothing worth seeking out when you go back home:
Meat drying on the street:
As we drove out of Siem Reap to go visit the floating village, we passed dozens of roadside stands selling kralan. I asked Sophon if we could pull over at one (many had large number signs in front). Sophon told me that many people have favorite stalls and stop on their way out of town for the bamboo stuffed with sticky rice. The kralan I bought for about $1 had sweet beans mixed in with the sticky rice as well as some coconut pieces and some palm sugar for sweetness. It was a great morning snack:
Where to eat:
Malis (136 Norodom Blvd)
Romdeng (74 Ph 174)
For drinks: Foreign Correspodents’ Club (363 Sisowath Quay)
Best soursop ice cream I’ve had in Asia: Toto (75 Norodom Blvd)
Street 420 has many great spots.
Sugar Palm (Taphul Rd), had amok here.
Cocktails: Miss Wong (The Lane)