Chompin' Cambodia

Cambodia. A charmingly resilient country with a scarred history. After eating my way through Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia and (still) Vietnam, I now consider myself quite well read on the subject of South East Asian Cuisine. Common themes can be found time and time again throughout the region, such as the use of rice products in all imaginable ways (noodles, pancakes, spring rolls, etc.) and the marriage of contrasting flavors such as lemongrass, fish sauce, chiles and shallots. Cambodia's culinary interpretations follow..

One thing I immediately noticed after crossing into Cambodia from Vietnam is a big emphasis on grilled foods. Vietnam has the ubiquitous suon heo but Cambodia seems to grill anything with a liver, from beef sausage (below) to pork ribs to chicken feet to Mekong delta river fish. Follow the clouds of smoke spewing from the sidewalks for your daily dose of cholesterol.

Beef? Sausage. Pardon my lack of knowledge when it comes to dish names. The Cambodian language doesn't use the western script so I just hit the streets blind and hoped for the best. I can describe how it tasted, though.

More Delicious grilled pork, infused with heavy smoke flavor. Thailand may be more known for the papaya salad but Cambodia serves up a practically identical version of their own, complete with lime, fish sauce, peanuts and chili.

Most Southeast Asian countries have their point-and-choose afternoon budget meals. In Indonesia the choices are placed on dishes in volcano-like formations. In Vietnam, they're placed in bowls. Over in Cambodia they prefer the 10 gallon cauldrons. Take a glance, shoo away those pesky flies, and have the ladies scoop out what you fancy.

Much to my satisfaction, pork is prevalent all over mainland Southeast Asia and Cambodia is no exception. Marinated crispy fried pork ribs.

Sort of like Larb from Laos if you will? An intensely flavored ground pork mixture with raw veggies as dipping chips.

You can't stumble through the streets without feeling the heat from a Chinese style wok as it sears veggies. I've found more often than not that outside of Thailand and Malaysia, wok stir-fries end up as a gloppy cornstarch-heavy disappointment. Fun to watch, though.

Fried sesame donuts over a wood fire. Originally Chinese, then brought to Vietnam and now frying daily in Eastern Cambodia.

Cambodia's most heralded noodle dish. Rice noodles with fresh veggies such as bean sprouts, banana flower and cucumbers. The broth is laced with lemongrass and turmeric but unlike other curries in Southeast Asia there's an absence of heat.

A popular roadside snack is these little grilled bundles. Rice and bananas wrapped in banana leaves. Not amazing, not disgusting- like most of the grub I encountered in Cambodia.

Rice flour grilled pancakes balls. Yet another creation based on the lifeblood of Southeast Asia. Learn to embrace this grain or prepare to go hungry. Chances are you'll learn to love it.

That's all I got from Cambodia, but before I head out it's time for a quick update recap of deliciousness, country-by-country. Countries given a ranking by flavor (* to ****) and (relative to Southeast Asia) price ($ - $$$$)

Laos - Variety was lacking, as was taste. No coastline hurts. * - $
Cambodia - Definite upgrade from Laos, still not memorable. ** - $$
Singapore - In 2 days I ate a lot of good food at Hawker stalls. Nothing bad, nothing outstanding. *** - $$$
Indonesia (Bali)- Inexpensive, colorful, delicious and spicy! Flavor is lost as you venture deeper into the countryside. *** - $
Thailand - Still does the best stir-fried noodles. Great bargain, as well. *** - $
Vietnam - Unmatched street food variety. Overflowing with dirt cheap fruits, greens and seafood. ***1/2 - $
Malaysia - Quite possibly the most delicious blend of Indian, Malay and Chinese..ever? ***1/2 - $$


Mike Corsini said...

Get ready:

Anonymous said...

Those pork ribs might be the best one i eaten in SE asia. To find great food in cambodia can be a bit tricky but its worth it!!



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