I feel that the Food Envy post from Cambodia requires an introduction. While in Asia I have opted to be a vegetarian (well, most of the time). I have gone through phases of vegetarianism several times over the last 8 years of my life. There are a million moral reasons to be a vegetarian, but to be honest, those aren’t usually what put me on a vegetarian kick. Meat is aesthetically unappealing to me. I don’t like the idea of eating something that was once alive, therefore when I do eat meat, I’m very, very picky about the way the meat I eat is prepared. It has to be well-done, off the bone and very neatly cut (I had a much more graphic description, but Stacey thought I should clean it up a bit). So, since I’m unsure of how to express these concerns I have essentially given up meat for 101 days, making an exception from time to time for bacon or ham. The point of me telling you all of this is that it has limited the dishes that I have had here in Asia. So, if things seem repetitive that’s because they are, but I still enjoyed it all the same. Enough about my weird on-again-off-again-vegetarianism and on to the delicious Cambodian food!
NOODLES: Fried noodles with vegetables were a staple in my Cambodian diet. The crazy thing is that even though I had these most days, no two noodle dishes were ever the same. The type of noodle, the variation of vegetables or the sauce would change every single night. They definitely kept me on my toes when it came to ordering this dish.
GREEN CURRY WITH VEGGIES: This was one of my branching out entrees. This was a mild curry with yummy veggies stewed in it. I really enjoyed the sweetness of the coconut milk in the sauce and this ended up being a favorite meal. Sometimes good things happen when I try new things.
CRICKETS: This breaks all of the rules of my weird form of vegetarianism. It still looks like the animal, it had all body parts attached still, didn’t look appetizing and frankly I had no intention of enjoying this experience, but I felt it was something extreme for me that I wanted to try. I was surprised to find that it was something that, had it not been a cricket, I would’ve greatly enjoyed the flavor of. So, the lady who offered this to me for free was at least very good at seasoning things.
BANANA PANCAKES: These quickly became a staple of ours for both desert and breakfast. The desert pancakes (pictured above) were like a crispy crepe with sliced bananas, and sweet condensed milk rolled up like a tortilla and were my favorites. The breakfast pancakes were like your typical, fluffy American banana pancakes.
BREAKFASTS: Speaking of breakfast, here’s a look at what we often ate for breakfast. Stacey and I typically ordered two things and split them so we got some variety from different food groups. We often had pancakes featuring different fruits & honey, omelets, toast or baguettes, juice, iced coffee, cereal or fruits. All this deliciousness made me question why I don’t eat breakfast more often at home.
FRIED SWEET DOUGH WITH GREEN SAUCE: I have Googled every variation of words for this sweet treat that I can think of but can’t for the life of me figure out what exactly this is. It tasted like funnel cake dough and the green sauce was really refreshing and sweet as well. I’m glad we tried this Siem Reap night market find.
FRESHWATER CLAMS COOKED IN CHILI (Leas Harl): I had seen people pushing carts of these round objects around and in my head I thought they looked like olives or some sort of nut. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed to find out that they were little freshwater clams, because I’m not a huge fan of seafood. I was totally amazed by the graciousness of Cambodian street food vendors. They were always willing to give out samples of some of their product, and this man gave Stacey and I each one to try. I could tell from the moment it touched my tongue that I couldn’t eat it… This is the one thing that I was unable to swallow in all of Cambodia. Although, the seafood-loving girl next to us thought they were quite lovely.
BEER: I had the privilege of not only trying, but enjoying three of the cheapest beers I’ve ever had. Anchor beer was my favorite and was served at Siem Reap Hostel for only 50 cents per pint during happy hour. I also greatly enjoyed the Phnom Penh beer was free with an entrée in, you guessed it, Phnom Penh and Cambodia Beer was only a dollar. I loved being able try new beer that I enjoyed while in Cambodia.
SPRING ROLLS: Even though these are quite common in the US I managed to not try one until being in Asia. The first ones we tried (pictured left) were in no way tasty. This was for our first dinner, so I hadn’t sworn off meat yet, and these spring rolls were not properly fried and had the most disgustingly flavored, mushy chicken in them… and no more meat for 100 days. Ha! Stacey convinced me to try them one more time, and this time veggie and THEY WERE DELICIOUS. Veggie spring rolls became a staple in our Cambodian dinners.
KHMER DUMPLINGS: This appetizer was randomly selected off of the vegetarian section of a menu. They had a strange, soft and sticky outer shell and were filled with various things like corn, Thai basil and a mystery veggie/herb that we have yet to identify. They were served with a sweet chili sauce and even though they weren’t at all bad, we didn’t ever order them again.
NOODLE SOUP: It was basically always too hot for soup, but one night a girl named Rin that we explored the night market with one night ordered some and it looked so good that I had to try it despite the hot temperatures. It was as good as it looked. The broth had a really nice flavor, even for a veggie soup and it was an impulse food that I really enjoyed.
ICED COFFEE: I know this doesn’t seem like a purely Cambodian delicacy. I have iced coffee frequently in the States, but not like this. This coffee is very strong and is served over sweetened condensed milk. It is absolutely heavenly and the perfect way to start your day.
GRILLED BANANA WRAPPED IN STICKY RICE AND GRILLED IN A BANANA LEAF (Onsorm Cheik Aing): I came into Cambodian cuisine knowing that I wanted to eat a cricket, and Stacey came in knowing that she wanted to eat something that was cooked in a banana leaf. When we were in Phnom Penh this sweet treat seemed like the perfect option to fill that requirement. The sticky rice was sweet and complimented the texture of the grilled banana well. Had we seen one of these again we probably would have split another.
FRUIT SHAKES: It took us three days to try one of these, but after our first taste of a dragon fruit shake we were soon once-a-day-minimum addicts. With flavors like guava, orange, banana, pineapple, watermelon and more there is a flavor for every fruit lover. Plus, at right around a dollar per shake it’s completely worth it.
STICKY RICE AND BEANS IN A BAMBOO TUBE (Nom Kralaan): Stacey and I somehow ended up in free VIP seats at a River Festival in Kratie, which each came with a free program, bottle of water and this treat. Neither of us was hungry so we saved them as a snack for the bus ride the next day. They honestly didn’t have much flavor, they were just a very chewy texture with essentially flavorless beans stuck inside of it. I’m very glad we were able to try these for free.
WESTERN INDULGENCES, CAMBODIAN STYLE:
DAIRY QUEEN: This was nothing out of the ordinary. It was purely a delicious chocolate covered strawberry blizzard which we split and enjoyed every last bite of.
PIZZA: This was hit or miss. We had pizza a few times and each was a very different experience. In Phnom Penh, it wasn’t great. We had a veggie pizza with a weird crust and even weirder sauce. In Kratie it got a little better, we had a decently flavored Hawaiian pizza, Stacey’s favorite. Then, in Ban Lung, at The Green Carrot we had a delicious pizza that could rival a decently expensive pizza back home. I was definitely a fan and it was nice to have a Western meal that truly tasted Western.
BANANA SPLIT: After a 12-mile trek through the jungle of Ban Lung we decided to treat ourselves at dinner by splitting a banana split. Picturing a giant banana split down the middle with three scoops of ice cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries and pineapple is clearly not what we got. Instead it was two tiny bananas split and shaped into a circle with chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, cashews, shredded dried apricots and this strange lime gummy substance. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the best either. But hey, this is what a Cambodian banana split looks like.
I truly enjoyed the food that I ate in Cambodia. Even though everything wasn’t an instant favorite, I only couldn’t eat one thing. I tried a lot of things I had never had before and new takes on more familiar dishes. I could definitely come back to Cambodia and share a few meals with people here. I hope I haven’t made you guys too hungry for Cambodian food. Cheers!