Cambodia has many Thailand-influenced curries, but pumpkin curry seems to be its own delicious concoction. Next Halloween, I plan to turn my jack-o-lantern's innards into this dish!
On the road to the Angkor Temples, outside of Siem Reap, Andy bought some UFOs (unidentified fried objects) from a lady with a cart. They had sesame seeds on the outside and...nothing on the inside. Ah, well. At least they were still fried.
Speaking of fried, here are some nice fried noodles. Except, look again--those aren't noodles, they are strips of ginger! Chicken with ginger, Cambodian-style...i.e., insanely heavy on the ginger. Not that we're complaining.
A fruit vendor outside of one of the Angkor temples lured us over with songs of sweet, cheap pineapples...but was also selling this fruit that we had never seen before. As soon as we showed the slightest bit of interest in it, she was cutting one up for us to taste. It's called a "milk fruit," and it didn't taste like milk to us, but it was a sweet and tasty little fruit all the same. I mean, how could something so purple be bad?
These scallion-filled dumplings, steamed and lightly fried, then bathed in a sweet sauce and topped with a chili sauce, were perhaps our favorite street food in Siem Reap. The cart selling them was so mobile, though, that the guy had packed up and moved two blocks away before we even finished eating these two dumplings. I guess Andy smelled particularly bad that day.
Another Cambodian specialty is fish "amok," likely so-called because the fish all swim amok trying to avoid being made into it. In the tourist hotspot of Siem Reap, they'll make it with any meat you like (or make it vegetarian), so Andy got the chicken version. Coconut milk and lemongrass are its main features, and the banana-leaf bowl is traditional.
Picture menus are popular in Siem Reap, and by picture menu, I don't mean a laminated card with little thumbnails of each dish. I mean an enormous photo album with 4x6 photographs stuck in and hand-written labels for every one. Which one is prettier, the banana shake, or the pineapple one?Also popular in Siem Reap is Cambodia barbecue--kind of like Korean barbecue if you've had that before. Thin slices of raw meat are delivered to your table, then you cook them yourself on a gas-powered hot pot...after you've lubricated said pot with a huge slice of pork fat, of course. You also spread greens and noodles around the edges and pour on hot broth to boil them while your meat is cooking. I kind of overcooked my squid, but it was a fun experience.
Far funner, though, were our many visits to the Blue Pumpkin ice cream chain, which has several branches in Siem Reap and Phnom Penn. If their cinnamon-speculos isn't the best ice cream flavors in Asia, I'll eat my foot...after dipping it in a tub of cinnamon-speculos, of course. Their tropical fruit flavors and peanut ice cream are also awesome...but not the caramel-cashew! It is bitter and nasty. Also, you can eat their ice cream in a bed, adding to the fun.
The Blue Pumpkin was a little too chi-chi and expensive for Andy's taste. I guess he'd rather eat fried bugs out on the street. Crickets, to be exact. You know, everyone's favorite bus snack! Andy says they tasted like corn nuts--slightly oily from the frying and with a bit of salt added to enhance that, um, crickety flavor. But he drew the line at eating beetles. Not because that would be too gross or anything--just because they were too expensive. (Sneak preview: They're cheaper in Laos!)
Only slightly less frightening to me than the vermin snacks was Cambodia's other indigenous Fanta flavor, "sarsi"...which turned out to be root beer, my other least favorite soda flavor! Andy enjoyed it, though. And in our quest to try novel flavors of ice cream as well as soda, we also bought a tub of "sugar palm" ice cream which tasted like...sugar.
Here's a dinner that Andy ordered at a little local place in Phnom Penh. I forget what the main course was, something chickeny, but I'll just point out that it came with an entire pot of rice! Cambodians love their rice, and would never think of making you pay extra for it, like restaurants sometimes do in Thailand.
Here's another interesting flavor of ice cream that you find a lot in Southeast Asia--taro, or yam. I like it mostly because it is purple, but also because it is a vegetable, and how many vegetable ice creams do you know?
Another sweet item that you can find in many places in Asia is bubble tea, which is fun to drink because it has huge tapioca pearls that you suck up through a big straw. I think it's most popular in Taiwan, but we're not going to Taiwan, so I got some in a mall in Cambodia. The "tea" itself is basically just sugar and food coloring--you drink it mainly for the texture and the sugar rush, I think.
French-bread-based sandwiches are popular throughout the former French colonies of Southeast Asia. Vietnam's banh mi is probably the most famous, but the version I got in Phnom Penh, filled with ground pork, was pretty good. Less good was the bonus sliced, Spam-like processed ham product I got served on the side...
Back to Andy's favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the one that gives you a pot of rice with your meal...even if that meal is a noodle dish!
The bagful of random fried things in Phnom Penh turned out to be tastier than its cousin in Siem Reap. Some of these shapes were hollow, but others had vegetables in them.
I'll wrap things up with a shot of me at the riverfront in Phnom Penh enjoying a 50-cent Angkor beer. I thought this was the cheapest beer ever, but clearly I hadn't been to Vietnam yet... So, I guess I was less adventurous than Andy was when it came to the critter-munching and exotic-Fanta-flavor appreciation, but good curries and ice creams and smoothies and beer kept me nourished well enough in Cambodia. Bottom line: Cambodia--at least in its tourist hotspots--has enough chic restaurants AND cheap street markets to ensure that every traveler finds plenty of food to his liking.