Four Meals in Cambodia
Three hours before my alarm was due to go off, I got a text saying the visa rules had changed again and I wouldn’t have to leave Vietnam to get a new visa.
Curses. I’d already booked and paid for the bus to Phnom Penh and a night in a hotel. And made plans to meet friends for dinner.
A few days after my parenting holiday in Quy Nhon I discovered I couldn’t renew my visa inside Vietnam. I’d have to do a quick visa run. I could organise a letter of invitation, and take a bus to the border so I could walk over the Cambodian border and back in again.
But if I’m going to lose a page in my passport and US$35 for a Cambodian visa, I really want to eat some Cambodian food. So I booked the bus to Phnom Penh. Six hours each way, with enough time for four meals.
I prepared my list with care. But the very first thing I ate on my lightning-fast visit to Cambodia wasn’t on my list!
In fact, I didn’t even know what it was called until later when the hotel receptionist identified it from the photo on my phone.
While trying to find the hotel, I passed a roadside stall selling something that looked great.
The guys who shared my table showed me how to eat it. They threw some crushed peanuts and chilli into my lime and fish sauce dipping sauce and encouraged me to dip and eat the fried balls. They were so hot they burnt the roof of my mouth! These savoury sticky rice balls, flavoured with chives, and fried until golden are called nom krok.
Dinner included Cambodia’s iconic dish, fish amok, a creamy coconut curry that looks like vomit but tastes divine.
Breakfast was nom banh chok at the local market. We discovered this dish on our food-focused family visit to Cambodia in 2012. It’s thin wet rice noodles topped with a peanutty coconut gravy. It’s more of a northern Cambodian dish, I was told, so a bit difficult to find in the capital. But there was a stall in Kabkor Market that did a very tasty nom banh chok. My presence in this small and very local market was considered hilarious by the regular patrons, who kept slapping their thighs and yelling out “nom banh chok”. It was a great meal!
The second stage of breakfast was supposed to be num kachay, a fried dumpling stuffed with chives. I knew it was an afternoon dish but I decided to try to track it down in the morning anyway. It took nearly three hours and four passes through Phnom Penh’s Central Market to find it!
It was worth the walk (and the blisters) because as I ate my dumplings I noticed a couple of ladies frying some very interesting-looking items nearby. All that walking cancels out a million fried calories, right?
I finished my three-course breakfast just in time to meet a friend for lunch.
He recommended baw baw trey, which turned out to be rice porridge with fish, very similar to Vietnam’s cháo and Singapore’s congee. The main difference was the heavy dose of ginger strips and the lettuce leaves.
The staff at my guesthouse cooked up a special batch just for us. As they were cooking I checked the menu, which did not include baw baw trey. That made my final meal in Cambodia even more special.
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2 years ago