Cambodian cuisine: Satisfying surprises.

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More subtle than Thai food, and not quite as intricate as Vietnamese, Cambodian cuisine came as a delightful surprise to our palates mid-way through our SE Asian journeys.

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Characterized by gentle curries and warm spices, we were pleasantly surprised with the offerings of Khmer Cuisine.

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Many Cambodian dishes are based around the use of the coconut.  Above, a lady makes her own coconut milk on the side of the street by grating coconut flesh, and then running it through a press to separate out the milk from the pulp.

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Cambodian’s national dish is the fish Amok.  Traditionally steamed and served in a coconut or in a dish formed from banana leaf, this gentle but flavourful dish is a real delight for the tastebuds.

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Beef Lok Lak is another dish that Cambodia is well-known for.  You consume it by wrapping portions of the meat and salad ingredients in a lettuce leaf, then dipping that in a tasty dipping sauce (the best part of it, Brendon reckons.)

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Though we didn’t indulge in any of these ourselves, frog legs were a common menu item in restaurants.  We did, however, have a rather close encounter with them at a local market.

Cambodian cuisine

If you fancy some Western comfort while in Cambodia… perhaps a nice sandwich on a French baguette, a slice of cheesecake, or some gelato, look no further than the Blue Pumpkin.   This French bakery/restaurant is a haven for tourists seeking the comforts of home.  The unique white couch set-up lined with pillows is the perfect place to crash while you enjoy a yummy bite or two, use the free wifi to plan the next leg of your adventure, and take a break from the scorching temperatures outside.

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At the Singing Tree Cafe, we enjoyed an excellent mango salad, along with a generous serving of home-made kumara chips.

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Khmer soup, from the Khmer Soup Restaurant, was a bowl of flavourful goodness topped with fresh herbs.

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We found Cambodia to be extremely tourist-friendly, with many appealing dining options.

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The decor in Cambodian restaurants is usually very colorful, with napkins and tablecloths in bright hues.

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Our favorite Cambodian dining experience was at Sugar Palm in Siem Reap.  Set up in a historic villa, the restaurant had rave reviews, so we decided to check it out.

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Almost soufflé-like in texture, Sugar Palm’s Amok was quite different than most other Amoks we had tried, but lived up to the hype and won our vote for best Amok in Cambodia.

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Another culinary masterpiece that we had the pleasure of consuming was Pro-Hok Khtiss, a pork dipping sauce, similar in texture to a bolognese sauce, which is served with a plate of raw vegetables for dipping.  The sauce had fantastic flavour.

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With not as many dishes based around grains in Cambodia, I found it was the easiest country in which to stick to a Paleo lifestyle.

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It was in Cambodia that we first came across the opportunity to support local businesses trying to make a difference in the lives of the marginalized.  Friends is one example.  As a reputable restaurant, “Friends” has worked to build the futures of former street children and marginalized young people in Phnom Penh since 1994.  The restaurant employs teens who have had a rough go, and they work their way up through the hospitality chain- greeting, serving, and then working in the kitchen.  They gain valuable training from hospitality and culinary professionals that will help them build a future for themselves.

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We had a great dining experience there, and definitely recommend it to anyone looking to enjoy a tasty meal while supporting an excellent cause.  Next door to the restaurant, there is  a gift shop which sells some super cool jewelery and other products hand-made by at-risk youth.  “Friends” is just one of many organizations established to help make a local impact.  In a future post, we will highlight other local businesses trying to make a difference for their communities.

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We felt especially inspired by Cambodian cuisine, perhaps because because of its novelty… or perhaps because of its awesomeness.  It’s not everyday you get the chance to indulge in Cambodian delicacies… but let us tell you, should you ever get the chance, indulge away!

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Travel, narrative & perspectivism.

Perspectives in Cambodia

Traveling is many things: exciting, nerve-wracking, at times frightening, at times surprisingly comfortable. One thing that is affirmed time and time again through travel, is that I (we) are not from this place (wherever we happen to be at any given moment).

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This happened frequently for me, whether in subtle ways like the lack of a bottom sheet in most of our hotels, or  sometimes, in much more drastic and terrifying ways like the streets of Phnom Phen in rush hour.

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We can only ever be from where we are from. The perspective we bring to the world has been finely honed from our births. Altered, obviously, throughout our lives, but we are not simply able to change our past, or rid ourselves of memories and experiences that shape our particular point of view.

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We are unable to see things through any eyes but our own. And as you travel, you are able to get a glimpse, albeit a small one, of the insane amount of eyes that there are out there who are equally unable to grasp your perspective as you are unable to grasp theirs. Fully grasp, that is. Partial grasping is defiantly possible, due to the amazing similarities throughout human civilization. Perspectivism is what James McClendon names this phenomenon.

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The fact that we are unable to see from other perspectives (but by the imagination), is a bit unnerving. It leaves so much misunderstood, or unknown, which has an uncomfortable effect on you (well me at least).

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I found my self in Hanoi, Vietnam, in a leftist cafe, displaying old propaganda posters from the Northern Vietnamese during the war. While there, I read a interesting article in a magazine which brought on some of these questions. It was about a Westerner (Australian I think) whose father was a reporter from the end of WWII through the Vietnam war. He had leftist leanings, and was well respected by the communist groups for this fair reports of what was going on. This lead this man to grow up with a perspective that from the Western world would have seemed backwards. To him, the Communists were the good guys and Capitalism was bad. For him, the chaos of Asia, and his family etc. combined to lead to a perspective from the other side. He later moved back to the western world, but this perspective stayed with him.

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I found my self thinking after I read this article, what it would be like to have a perspective from the other side… Or like the man in this article, to be able to see things from both sides.  In what ways are my perspectives shallow, or odd?