Food notes from Cambodia

While the beer and coffee I’ve had so far can’t compete with the deliciousness that is Beerlao and Lao coffee, we have had some pretty great food since arriving in Cambodia.

Recently I’ve been really enjoying the international fare that’s available in Phnom Penh, but for this post I want to keep it local. 🙂

Divine dining in Kratie

Halfway through our stay in Kratie, we discovered the restaurant at Balcony Guesthouse. If we’d found it earlier I am pretty sure we would have had every meal there!

They had western and other Asian food on offer, but I only tried their Khmer dishes. I can confidently say that every single thing I ate there was absolutely awesome. Quality ingredients and amazing flavors. I was in heaven!!

The first meal I had there had me in raptures. It was something called chaa kh’nay. With a base of succulent local river fish, the dish involved tons of tender fried ginger plus lots of garlic and spring onions – some of my most favorite flavors.

We had time enough in Kratie that I could try a couple of other dishes there, but the chaa kh’nay was my definite favorite and I was lucky enough that Pheak, one of the really friendly guys working there, invited me into the kitchen and translated for me as his sister, the cook, explained the ingredients and steps. The recipe follows below. I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet but I plan to do so as soon as I can get my hands on a kitchen! 🙂

Pheak mentioned they are planning on offering cooking classes. If you happen to be traveling in Kratie, I would definitely check it out! We ended up at another hotel, but were able to peak into some of the rooms as we went upstairs for dinner/breakfast and it seems like a cute, clean place. The open, 2nd storey restaurant has nice river views and is a lovely place to enjoy a fantastic meal.

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Bor bor, a simple but satisfying rice porridge that is a traditional breakfast in Cambodia (with regional versions to be found across much of Asia)

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Chay Seang Y – Cambodian herbal wine that is allegedly a cure all. Enhances kidneys, increases appetite (like I need that…), good against hyperthermia, urinary tract infections, lumbago and “does not cause any headache after consuming.” Tasted pretty much as healthy as it sounds.

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Chaa g’dao, chicken stir fried with fresh basil, lemon grass and chili. Was just the right amount of heat for me, with lovely, subtle flavors. Really tasty.

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The incredibly delicious Chaa kh’nay. Am drooling just looking at the photo. Seriously.

Chaa kh’nay

Ingredients

Lots of fresh ginger (as young as possible), probably about 5 inches worth, maybe even more.
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
Mild freshwater fish, cubed
Vegetable oil (my guess is 1 or 2 tablespoons?)
Fish sauce and oyster sauce (again a guess, 1 tablespoon each?)
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of salt
One green onion for garnish

Directions

Finely chop fresh ginger into thin strips. Pre-heat a pan on medium heat, then add oil and ginger. Cook until the ginger starts to brown, then remove the ginger from the heat.

In the same pan, add the fish and fry until brown. Then add the chopped garlic and ginger until (in the words of the cook) “It smells good.” The garlic in my dish was also nicely golden, if that’s a helpful indication.

At that point, add the fish and oyster sauce and a bit of sugar and salt to taste.

Remove from heat, garnish with green onion and serve with steamed rice.

Fruit!

There are loads of street vendors in Phnom Penh, selling everything from steamed snails to waffles to freshly fried noodles to massive green coconuts. There’s plenty of seasonal fruit for sale and I love the colorful carts loaded with all sorts of delicious things. Even after 10 months on the road I am still discovering new fruits and vegetables.

Today I picked up a bag full of snacks from a lady with a cart on our street. A kilo of fruit for around one US dollar. I ate a bunch while we were walking around; these were left overs long enough to be photographed. The lighting was no good so it’s not a great picture but there was no way they were going to last until sun up. 😉

From left to right, mangosteen (which just keeps getting even more delicious every time I try it. Must be peak season right now.), custard apple, which I got hooked on at Ritu’s in Delhi but which I haven’t seen for sale until Cambodia and rambuten, kind of like lychee’s punk rock cousin.

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