Food and drinks, and more food and more drinks

For a person who loves food and cooking, and a minion who looks great next to any meal, Thierry and I haven’t been posting much about the delectable dishes we’ve had the good fortune to sample on our travels. I posted recently about traditional Cambodian food, and I did have that post a while back about eating bugs (which are a lot tastier than you would imagine…), but Siem Reap is a tourist town first and foremost, and there is food available to suit any taste, style and budget. Fancy a burger? Check out this bad boy:

img_2454

It’s called the Big Pig Burger and it was fantastic. Admittedly, it beat me. Just look at the size of it! There was a pork burger, topped with cheese and bacon, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and a fried egg. There was honey BBQ sauce and fries, mayo and a free drink. It was served, as you can see, on a wooden board and it momentarily took me back to my own waitressing days at a delightful chain of restaurants in the UK called Bill’s, where we served burgers on boards. I mastered the art of carrying three boards way sooner than three plates, but that’s a story for another day.

img_2514So what else have we been eating? Well, sometimes we need to tone it down with a salad. Interestingly, Khmer salads tend to come served with rice, so it’s a fairly substantial meal. This is a lotus flower and chicken salad that was served in a giant petal. I think it was the stem of the lotus that I was eating, which didn’t have too much of a taste but the salad dressing was very good, if a little on the spicy side!

I went to a wonderful restaurant last weekend where the owner incorporates homemade rum into many of the dishes. The food was truly incredible, not recommended if you are vegetarian, but I’m sure the chef would be more than happy to cook something specially for you, if you called ahead. He came to deliver our food personally, explaining the img_2470chutneys and chilli pastes he had brought along with our dishes and checked back with us to make sure everything was okay. Honestly,  I think it was the best customer service I’ve had in the whole of SE Asia. Speaking of, this particular restaurant also boasts the best pina colada in SE Asia. I had high hopes for this cocktail, since we had received a sample of their homemade coconut rum on arrival, and though it was pretty good, maybe it didn’t quite live up to the hype, in my opinion. Thierry loved it though. He maybe had a little too much that night…

He enjoyed the homemade jams and chutneys too, and so did I. There was quite a wait for our food, so we were offered crackers and jams to start us off (I think they come as standard, but they made us feel like we were special!). The selection was really fantastic, from mango lime to banana cinnamon, from papaya to passion fruit. img_2468

I think what I’m trying to say here is that food is a wonderful experience for me, and I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible before I continue with my sorry, our travels, because a meal like that in Australia is likely to cost three times as much as it does here. If we’re lucky.

 

 

Advertisements

Geckos and bullfrogs and snakes

It is no secret that I am not a fan of animals. I’m allergic to furry animals, don’t ask me about long hair or short hair, cats vs dogs… I tend not to stick around them long enough to find out the extent of my allergies because I’m also sort of frightened of them. Many people show me pictures of cute puppies or kittens and then are horrified when I don’t even smile. They must think my heart is made of stone (not true… I cry at Dumbledore’s funeral every time I read that chapter).

In any case, I’ve been living with some house geckos. They lounge on the walls and hang about on the ceilings, they hide behind my bamboo wardrobe. Their poop is EVERYWHERE and whilst they can sit still and silent for hours on end, when they call to each other they are LOUD. It is incredible to me that a creature so small can make such a racket. Since I’ve been living with these little lizards, I’ve made it my duty to find out more about them.

img_2425In English, we call them geckos, supposedly because this is the sound that they make: “geck ko, geck ko”. In actual fact, the Khmer word for them is even more onomatopoeic – tokke. If you make the “t” sound with your tongue directly behind your front teeth, and then make the most natural vowel sound, it’s kind of like a “tho” sound, and the “kke” is sort of like “kayy”. Put them together and you get “tho kayy, tho tho tho tho tho kayy”, which is infinitely more accurate. I’ve also observed their daily habits; they’re nocturnal, so they only make their incessant “tho kayy” noises at night, echoing around the ceiling in my room. I’ve had a look online, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason behind the sound. I thought maybe it was some manner of mating call, but all the research so far points to this being a “social call” between the small reptiles.

Another amphibious creature I’ve been hearing a lot of in the rainy season is the frog. Having a look on the old interwebs, I think they are banded bullfrogs. If you scroll halfway down this Wikipedia page, you can treat yourself to the beautiful (!) sound of these animals. If the “tho tho tho tho kayy” of the tokke aren’t enough to keep you from sleeping, and it’s been raining, you can add the bullfrog choir to the mix. Luckily, I have not seen any bullfrogs in my apartment. Outside, on the steps, even right near my front door, I’ve seen them, but they tend to prefer a wet and muddy environment, so my humble abode is safe. Saying that, I do see them hopping about and caught this series of photos before the little critter leapt away.

The last reptile on my list is a snake. Now, I am not a herpetologist (scientist who studies reptiles and amphibians), but I have attempted to identify the type of this slithering creature. In actual fact, he was very still and wasn’t slithering anywhere or harming anybody at all. Unfortunately, he was chilling out at school, in a corner right next to the classrooms and directly opposite the staffroom, and he had to go. The Security Man, Mr Chan was summoned and after approximately 30 seconds of excitement (including the chance to grab this photo!), Mr Chan arrived with a massive bamboo stick. I thought he was going to coax the snake outside or something similar. Instead he prodded it, it fell to the floor with a flail and he proceeded to beat it to death. In front of the kids! He then picked up the lifeless snake and took it outside where, I presume, he buried it.


So anyway, as I said, I tried to identify the species, and I think it was a banded krait, with black and yellow stripes.  More common in Thailand, but can be found across South East Asia and other parts of Asia too. If it was indeed such a snake, then it is a venomous species. A light bite may induce dizziness, vomiting and diarrhoea and abdominal pains. A heavy dose of the venom could cause respiratory failure and death. This one was only a baby at around a metre in length though, so I doubt it would be able to kill. I’ve had mixed reactions from friends around town. What do you think, was it right to kill the snake?

My name is Thierry, and I’m Deena’s Minion…

Hey everyone, I’ve got another break from tradition for you this week. My minion has been a little vocal about not getting out and doing stuff recently, so I have allowed him free reign for an entire post. I have the distinct feeling I’m going to regret this, and that feeling starts with the name he has chosen for himself… Thierry. Harmless enough at first, but he then proceeded to tell me it stands for The Handsome and Incredible Explicably Ravishing Ray of Yellow. Fasten your seatbelts… he can be a little arrogant. You’ve been warned.

Yo! This is new. As She says, I’ve been getting a little restless recently. All She seems to do is go to work, go somewhere for lunch, spend the afternoon having a nap, maybe watching something on Netflix and then working again in the afternoon and then dinner, (sometimes with friends, sometimes solo like the loner she is) and then bed. And then it all starts over again. And She walks, like, EVERYWHERE.

When She first brought me with Her on this trip, I was doing so much cool stuff. Like drinking local whiskey in Laos and having selfies with the awesome group of friends She made on the trip. I visited like, four different countries in four weeks, and that’s pretty good going. But then She got a job and a routine and I’ve been shoved in my little bag with a nail file, some antihistamines, painkillers, a jar of tiger balm and a small bottle of hand sanitiser. I say it’s MY bag because I’m the most important thing in there. Don’t argue.

So yeah. I took it up with Her and She was really kinda nice about it. She said I could do whatever I wanted for one whole blogpost (so I thought I’d make the most of it… :D). I told Her I wanted to see everything She did. From the moment She woke up to the moment She turned the light off that night. I told Her I wanted to narrate it like Morgan Freeman. She told me to shut up and be happy that She was even willing to write up my report. She also said it would be boring, but I held my ground, ‘cus I can be pretty charming and persuasive when I wanna be. So yeah. Here goes.

She wakes up when the alarm went off at 6.20. She hits snooze. Twice. The first time She makes a noise like a strangled cat, the second time She opens Facebook and browses on her phone. Then She stumbles outta bed, into the bathroom and has a shower. She takes me with Her ‘cus I insist and today I get a wash too. I will never be repeating that experience. She scrubs me with an exfoliating glove and got shampoo in my eyes! She said it served me right for being nosey. Whatever. Then She has a bowl of muesli with chocolate pieces in it, ‘cus apparently She’s incapable of actually eating anything that’s good for Her without messing with it. Then She moisturises and puts clothes on. Grabs half a bottle out of ice from the freezer and makes sure I’m in her schoolbag. Not today though. Today I get to see the journey to school.img_2420

I didn’t realise it had been raining so much. The ground is sticky with mud and I pray to the MinionGod that She doesn’t drop me in it. We walk past a boutique hotel that has a sweet looking swimming pool in it. We’re gonna go one day if it ever stops raining. We stop at the end of the dirt track and today, She hails a motodop man. For someone who’s been living in Cambodia for like six months, Her Khmer is really bad; luckily for Her most people can speak English. When we get to school, She drops Her bag in the classroom and takes me to the water cooler to top up Her ice bottle. Class starts at 8am, and we arrive about 10 minutes before to set up the classroom.

For the morning’s class, I get to sit on the Teacher’s Table. Naturally all the kids wanna play with me, but She doesn’t let them. Meanie. They’re cute, as far as children go, but to be honest, I’m not really good with kids. They’re really loud, aren’t they? For small people, like, they can make a lotta noise from those little bodies. It’s unreal, but then again, good things come in small packages, look at me – I’m only two inches tall!

The class has English first thing, split into phonics and something more exciting and a little more difficult. Today we are doing the long “u” sound (“oo” like in spoon, “ue” like in blue, “ew” like in news and “u-e” like in rule) and we’re almost finished with Fairy Stories – Cinderella. After break, there is 30-45 mins of Maths (adding and subtracting 10 and 11) and then 45 mins-1 hour of either Science, Art, Music, PE or watching a vaguely educational movie. Today we pushed all the tables together and did Art. She showed the class a bunch of Roman Art stuff like mosaics and stained glass windows and then they got the paints out. I hid in my bag at this point, ‘cos I didn’t wanna get paint on me. The kids looked lethal with the paintbrushes! They are really talented kids though… look what one of them drew on the board at breaktime?! I think it looks a bit like Kevin’s dad.img_2408

Suddenly it’s time to pack up and She tries to zip the bag up with me in it, but I don’t let Her. Instead I get to listen to a serious conversation in the office. Even though it’s only like 11:25, apparently it’s time for lunch. We start walking back in the direction of home and then we see a smiley motodop man and tell him we want to go to King’s Road. His name is Mr Phenn, and apparently She sees him almost every day. Lunch is really nice, and super cheap.

Today, She doesn’t go home to nap. She has agreed to meet one of her private tuition students. I think She is a little embarrassed about me, ‘cos I was poking out of her bag the whole time, but She never introduced me to the guy. I would have been a great conversation topic, forget about sports and food… Then She stayed at Costa for another hour and a bit, killing time until Her next class at the other school. At around 4:30 she packs up and heads out to walk to school. This class is much more interesting. The kids are older and they are learning about newspaper articles. Plus, the class is only an hour, so it flies by. She lets the kids in this class pass me around like I’m some kinda toy, but they are a good bunch. Real shy though… they didn’t want photos taken. img_2413

After the class, we walk home. On the way, She stops at a fruit shake lady for a mango and pineapple shake. By the time we get home, the shake was almost finished and it was full on dark. At least there is no cooking tonight, ‘cos She had a giant burger last night, so that’s dinner sorted. She heated up this burger in a wok. It was the weirdest thing. Then She spends an hour watching Netflix and make sure She knows what She’s wearing for the next day, sets no less than three alarms, turns the light off and surfs Facebook for a while, until it’s time to sleep.

You know, now that I’ve seen the whole day, it’s kinda tiring, but not at all the exhilarating experience I was expecting. Saying that, if you know where to look, you can find excitement in anything. Like any boring old photo with me in it is suddenly Awesome with a capital A, right?

My experiences of some of the temples…

As I walk around town going about my daily business, I am always shouted at by hopeful tuktuk drivers, as described in intense detail in this previous post. Mostly, I tell them no and carry on my way, as I actually prefer a motorbike now. There is infinitely better manoeuvring of potholes and its so much better for your back, plus I’m only one person and my rucksack, so unless I’ve just bought groceries or it’s absolutely chucking it down, I don’t need to be in a tuktuk.

Anyway, for those days when I’m walking about looking more tourist-y than not, I’ll get asked if I want to see the sun set over Angkor Wat. In all seriousness, I’ve lived here in Siem Reap for over 6 months now and I’ve never been to the temples to see the sun set. It is something that I will have to do before I leave town. I’ve now been to witness the sunrise twice. I’m glad to say that the second time was infinitely better than the first. The colours were gorgeous, and the photos don’t really give it credit. I was also feeling a lot healthier this time round, and the heat wasn’t quite so unbearable this time round too, so all in all it was an enjoyable experience. I also feel like the tour guide we had this time was incredibly knowledgeable and he definitely knew all the best places for photos!

img_2298

I think my favourite temple that I’ve been to so far is Bayon, which has 49 great towers, each with four smiling faces. Seriously impressive stuff.

img_2306

I was also planning another sunrise trip last weekend. Or rather, some friends of mine were planning to stay up late to watch some Euro 2016 football match (Italy v Germany) and then motorbike over to the temples to see the sun rise. The match was due to start at 2am. Full time would be around 4am, giving us plenty of time to find a nice spot. Unfortunately, this match went into extra time and then penalties. And even then, they had more than five shots each! Eventually there was a winner, but by this time, we were cutting it fine to trek the 8km to the temples. Instead we changed our plans, but the sunrise wasn’t a spectacular one. Oh well. It was an enjoyable night that finished with breakfast at the place that gave me this milkshake… so it wasn’t a complete loss. Plus, the company was awesome. You know who you are, special people.

Khmer Cuisine and Quality Coffee

Food plays a major part in a lot of cultures around the world, varying from family to family, person to person. Some love cooking, whilst others can’t stand the idea of putting hours into a meal that takes minutes to devour. Some will spend exorbitant amounts on a dish at a fancy restaurant whereas others just want to consume enough calories to stave off hunger in the most convenient way possible until the next time they feel hungry. I fall into that first category; I adore cooking tremendously and think nothing of spending the best part of an afternoon in the kitchen, provided I have people to cook for and that they enjoy my culinary efforts. On my travels so far, I’ve had the pleasure of attending cooking classes in both Hoi An and Chiang Mai and I can’t wait to try the recipes out on  friends and family back home!

Khmer culture is no different; there are a plethora of eateries in Siem Reap, and you can pretty much get any kind of food you could possibly want (but I’ve yet to find a good pie and chip-shop chips), and the hot climate means you’re always thinking about your next drink. Ice cold coconuts are great for all round rehydration and a quick snack and so much better for you than ice cream milkshakes (even thought ice cream milkshakes are pretty awesome… check out that one at the top of this post!).  The general rule that I’ve found is the younger the coconut, the sweeter the taste but you don’t get much flesh to eat or water to drink. Older coconuts might not be as sweet but still taste great, have more water and are much bigger and better to munch on after you’re done slurping. It’s all in the luck of the draw, and I’ve been in situations where a friend and I have ordered coconuts and one is half the size of the other… but the same price, of course! Most restaurants will happily cut open a coconut for you if you ask nicely, else the edge of a straw can make a pretty good scoop. image

So, what are the signature Khmer dishes you should try if you ever have the great fortune to visit the Kingdom of Wonder? My personal favourite is the amok curry. I prefer chicken, but there is a fair amount of fish sauce in the traditional recipe, so you can choose fish, occasionally shrimp/prawn might be on the menu and there’s also a vegetarian option at most places. Depending on where you order, it can range from being quite a soupy dish, with chunks of carrot and shallots swimming in the broth, to a thicker and more concentrated sauce, which is how I prefer it. Amok is always served with rice, and is always creamy and warming with notes of ginger, galangal and kaffir lime, often garnished with fresh red chillies, but it isn’t a terribly spicy dish, like Thai green curry is. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s better than Thai green curry, and that is saying something, coming from me! Amok is traditionally steamed in a banana leaf and often served in one too: img_2252

The other dish you should definitely try is the beef lok lak. Whilst I don’t generally choose beef off of a menu, I did try a traditional lok lak when I first came to Cambodia at the very beginning of my trip, and I was not disappointed. I’ve ordered chicken lok lak since then and that has the same fantastic flavours. The recipe calls for as much sugar as salt, plus pepper and lime juice, with caramelised onions and both soy and oyster sauces, which gives the dish its characteristic molten brown colour. Honestly, though coconuts are awesome, sometimes it’s great to eat a meal without that distinctive flavour.

Living in SE Asia, you’re bound to have the odd stomach bug and when one of these hits all you really want to do is stay home (where you know there is a decent bathroom) and drink plenty of fluids. Then when you’re back to normal and feeling hungry (because you haven’t eaten properly for the best part of three days) you just want to treat yourself to some home-style comforts, and the foods you’ve been avoiding on your dodgy tummy. For me, that means a decent unsweetened coffee with fresh milk and an overpriced sandwich/panini/pastry from Costa. And maybe pizza. img_2372