As with Laos (where I started getting sick again), I am a little bit leary of street food in Cambodia—especially after a bus stop in a town where the toilet consisted of an enclosed cement slab (waste to be rinsed off through a hole between the wall and floor i.e. not even a hole for it to go into). I mean, if that was the sanitation in a town, I hate to think about how some of the street food is prepared and stored. It’s a shame, because I’m sure the food is great. But at least we’ve been able to eat enough tasty things from restaurants to keep my tummy happy.
The culinary goodness started with our first night in Ban Lung. A restaurant across the street from our hotel had been recommended by the Belgian guy, an ex-ngo worker who was familiar with the place. It turned out to be a great recommendation and a perfect place to get used to the food of a new country, mostly because the first time we ate there the food was really good. After that, Matt and I both felt “safe” ordering unfamiliar items on the menu. Well, actually, I must confess I kept ordering the same thing—the fried chicken with tamarind sauce because it was really good. But between the two of us eating several meals there over our short 2 day stay, we were able to try a few new things. You see, sometimes it can be hard to “break in” to eating new foods when I don’t know what stuff is, the staff can’t describe the food (descriptive food words aren’t exactly the most important English vocabulary to master), and despite wanting to try something new, I’m usually REALLY hungry and don’t want my order to turn out gross because we’re on a budget and I feel bad leaving it uneaten. Anyways, the fried chicken with tamarind sauce was a thin piece of chicken patted in flour, quickly fried to cook, then sliced and covered in tamarind sauce topped with green onions, cilantro, etc. The tamarind sauce was reminiscent of sweet and sour sauce, only it had more tang and less sweet than its “Chinese” counterpart with which I am more familiar. I liked the flavor of tamarind and assume it’s a more natural way of achieving such a nice flavor with out having to use ketchup, vinegar and loads of sugar. But who knows, I’m not really sure what they put into that sauce.
As far as the other good foods we ate, there were a few good pumpkin dishes—soup (coconut based broth with other fresh flavors) and curry. Another favorite was a ramekin filled with a warming baked sweet potato combo—sort of similar to a quiche, but just egg and no cheese. Loc lak has turned out to be the most frequently ordered dish. It mostly consists of lots of beef, eaten on rice and with a fried egg on top. It is thinly sliced and stir fried in a light brownish sauce which adds some tang and flavor, but the best part is the little side dish of ground pepper and lime juice. Stir the pepper and juice together (maybe they added another special ingredient, I’m not sure) and dip the meat in—so tender and flavorful, it’s excellent!
On the other hand, one dish that I liked but that wasn’t particularly flavorful was taro spring rolls, ordered from our hotel in Phnom Penh, Narin 2. Basically they were just a light phyllo-type wrapper filled with some mashed taro and fried. It was a bit bland, but the texture was nice and dipping the rolls in chili sauce made up for the missing flavor (as a good chili sauce should). I think taro is generally only flavorful when fermented as poi or iced out with loads of sugar as in drinks and bun fillings. But I have fondness for taro, I think because of my grandfather. He was fond of gardening, or at least throwing papaya seeds out on the dirt and watering the seedlings as they grew into trees. There was also a large mango tree in the back yard, and I think some other items growing around, though I don’t remember what. Among other things, he had a small patch of taro growing outside his house and told me how to make poi from the root. After he died my auntie made the most delicious lau lau from the leaves of his taro plants. So taro reminds me of my grandfather and my Chinese side, and I like ordering it when I can.
As far as fruits go, I’ve tried a few new ones so far. Longgan and rambutan are both lychee-type fruits. Longgan are round, plain, and brown colored on the outside while the rambutan is red and spiky (think if a koosh ball were a fruit). With both, once the outside skin is peeled back, the inside is almost a bit transparent and white in color. The taste is fruity goodness: mellow and slightly floral. Bananas aren’t a new fruit, but Matt and I have tried a couple of new varieties since we got here. Both are small—like the apple bananas you can find at home. The ones we got in Ban Lung were stumpy and about the same thickness of a “regular” banana (a la Safeway style). Unpleasantly, these bananas had little black bb-sized seeds in the last bite. More enjoyable and flavorful were these little petite bananas we got in Siem Reap. They’re cute little finger-length bananas, gone in a few bites. They have a creamy yellow flesh and almost buttery flavor, buttery for a banana anyways. I also tried an unripe mango. It was nice and crunchy, obviously more tart, but still with that strong mango essence. I prefer the ripe ones still.
That’s all on the new food for now. But, lastly, I would like to answer a food question asked a while back by our good friend, faithful reader, and fellow eater, Anuj. Hi Anuj. The question involves the “pregnant egg” or, in layman’s terms, hardboiled fertilized egg. So if you’re not interested, just don’t scroll down any further.
This is Anuj
This is Anuj
This is Anuj’s question: Great details describing the food, Joylani. Very vivid… Haha. Do you have any idea what the baby bird is supposed to taste like, if at all different? It is just as nutritious?This video is all I had to join you on your duck embryo adventures: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXucin9iIaE
Answer: Well, Anuj, upon seeing a rather large looking yolk with early stage feathers (that was after a lot of embryonic fluid drained out), I didn’t actually try the egg myself. However, I heard from another tourist who tried one at a less developed stage that it tastes like bloody egg yolk, kind of like eating an egg with a raw canker sore. If you are interested in trying one of these eggs, don’t let that description put you off. I’ve seen many an eater enjoying their egg. Just be sure to: 1.) use a little spoon 2.) add a little of the salt and pepper they give you, and 3.) for goodness sake, don’t fully remove the shell. No one who’s anyone does. A little hole will do. I would assume that at a more developed egg tastes like a chicken and egg together, with a little crunch. While McDonalds won’t be using this to save time making an Egg McMuffin anytime soon, you might be able to make one yourself. Unless PETA has a problem with it. Anyways, does anyone know if you can cook such an egg in the US? I ask because I am pretty sure cooking/eating dog is illegal in the States, at least in some places. But I don’t know about fertilized eggs.
Please let me know if you have any more questions. Remember folks, no question is a stupid question unless it isn’t asked. In which case you are stupid and not the question, because you are the one who doesn’t know the answer.
The Udvar-Hazy museum will now close…