As our time here is coming to an end, I think about all the great food Cambodia offers. Crunchy frogs, scrumptious Amok and tasty tarantulas have made up only part of our diet, and when other travelers ask me for a food recommendation, I always come up with a few interesting treats.
There’s nem, river fish zinged up with ginger, lime, chili, garlic and probably MSG. The snack is then neatly wrapped in banana leaves and sold by the dozen. But don’t be fooled, the packages are deceptive. What looks like a lot of fish, is not. After peeling away numerous layers of banana leaves, desperation sets in and you start wondering whether you’ve been tricked. More frantic unwrapping eventually reveals a tiny piece of soft white fish rolled into a couple of fragrant basil leaves. Suddenly, a dozen of them make sense. Clearly not more than a delicious appetizer, a handful of nem doesn’t really fill you up.
And that’s where krolan comes in handy. Apparently Cambodians go crazy over the sticky rice/red bean concoction prepared in a bamboo tube. But more peeling needs to be done to get to the sticky center and when you do, you realize what all the fuss is about. Once the outer bamboo layer is peeled away, the sticky rice remains encased in the thin skin-like inner lining of the bamboo which almost gives the rice a buttery taste. Of course, the special flavor could have been from the bean-sized cockroach Tony found in his lunch. Oh, well!
For a more social meal, go for a Cambodian table-top barbecue. The clever metal contraption serves to boil and grill at the same time. For only a few dollars, you can usually find amazing all-you-can-eat buffets that offer anything from raw squid, muscles, liver and shrimp to tofu, fish balls and seaweed.
I’m definitely going to miss Cambodian food, but now that I’ve heard about Laotian baguette-style pate sandwiches, I can’t wait to get to Laos.