Tarantula Canapé, anyone?
The town of Siem Reap is a provincial capital, a concrete oasis sprouted out of the vast land of scattered temples, rice fields and jungle. It has its own international airport and a fair share of first class accommodations. No building is higher than three floors and most of the establishments are converted or made to cater tourists from all over the world, that is in a form of hotels, restaurants, massage parlors, bars and the list goes on. Pub street (where our hostel is located) is the heart of the town. Beer is flowing 24/7 and looking around, majority of the populace walking were tourists from US and Europe, there’s not a lot of Asian travelers (Other than those groups of Koreans wearing a field trip uniform shirt and hat).
Food is one of the many things I love about this place, it’s inexpensive and the flavors charmed our palates. The taste of dishes in Indochina has a unified theme: the presence of coconut milk, noodles, rice, chili peppers, myriads of spices and (of course) hints of lime. But Cambodian cuisine maintained an identity and character unique from the neighboring countries.
A vendor selling Le’s Hal. Dried river shells with salt and chili.
It’s always a warning for tourists to be careful of what to eat in this side of the continent, but HECK! We want it down and dirty! I’m a nurse and part of my pre-trip preparation is to make sure I can perform first aid in cases of ailments (from diarrhea to mild myocardial infarct).
Upon arrival, I was half expecting that a vendor would approach us to sell some sort of sautéed tarantula or a jungle bug hors d’oeuvre, but it didn’t happen. So we just made-use of the menus in Pub street restaurants flooded with American/European retirees for our pseudo–Cambodian food trip.
Yes, in Cambodia they have a sweet and spicy delicacy called A-ping (Fried Skuon Tarantula), don’t fret, it’s just like eating crablets!
After feasting on our late breakfast at Common Grounds, we walked across the town center. Upon passing along Pub street we noticed that there’s one common poster outside the resto’s—BEER 25c/bottle. And ANGKOR BEER is the best I tasted to date. Too bad, I can’t bring some bottles back home. Bought a souvenir shirt though.
Due to our limited budget, we cannot try all the dishes in the menu, we chose those dishes that were recommended by our friend Meang.
Amok is the most popular Cambodian dish among tourists. If you can’t brave eating sautéed tarantula (Skuon a-ping), then this one could be for you. It’s a cod fish fillet bathe and stewed in a concoction of coconut milk, turmeric, paprika, curry powder, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, kaffir lime and fish sauce (aka. kroeung). We tried out several varieties served in different restaurants, but my favorite is the one served at Kkmer Family Restaurant in Pub street.
Loc Lac is Stir fried cubed beef served with fresh red onions, served on a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes and dipped in a sauce consisting of lime juice and/or black pepper. This is derived from the Vietnamese dish known as Bò lúc lac. It’s not Vietnamese, but khmer krom cuisine. Khmer krom are indigenous khmers in southern Vietnam.
Kuyteav, a rice stick noodle soup which is one local specialty that we tried. We bought it from the carinderia-style or street vendor make-shift restaurant. This is the tuktuk drivers’ favorite hang-out place while waiting for the tourists. It’s around 5,000 riels (about US$1) per serving. The lady kept on refilling my bowl before I even actually consume half of it.
One interesting place where you can dine, talk and hang-out is Temple Bar along Pub street. They got an al fresco cafe right outside, a Club on the first floor and a balcony restaurant upstairs.
They have an Apsara performance every night, showcasing the traditional dance and music of Cambodia. Meang, reserved a table for us on our last night in Siem Reap, it is usually fully booked so make sure to reserve in the morning before hitting the road to Angkor.
We didn’t really get the right opportunity to give the Cambodian Cuisine a fair chance due to our limited budget. There’s a lot gastronomic kitchens to explore, from the familiar treats like the counterpart of the Filipino Balut to the exotic and unique arachnoid-fear factor-ish cuisine adventure. And maybe next time we will get a shot to try their famous ‘Happy’ Pizza (wink!). So we promised to go back… SOON!