Thursday, 28 January 2010

Lia suhn hao-y Kampuchia!

Farewell Cambodia! The sunset here is always wonderful, but it doesn’t quite happen where you’d like it to be: sitting in a café with an ice-cold Angkor beer looking over the Tonle Sap, the sun goes down behind you. This means that it casts an orange glow onto the opposite bank, but in order to see the sunset at its best you need to see it sinking down behind the Royal Palace.

Well, we’re on our way to Vietnam. But let us tell you about our final day here in Phnom Penh. You have to pronounce the name of this city quickly, as if it were just one word, with the stress on the final syllable, which is quite nasal. Say it quickly like this: “Pnompain”. OK so far? Then here’s the report from our fact-finding mission to the Psar Ta Pang:

Of all the myriad stalls here, three took our fancy. Firstly, an amazing BBQ with hot, glowing charcoals and tasty kebabs.

The sauce which is constantly being pasted over these little sticks is not at all spicy, but sweet, fruity and tangy. Needless to say, we had quite a few of these miniature skewers.

Next, we tried some different types of dumplings! Did the French introduce this when they were the colonial power? Imagine a steamed dumpling about the shape and size of a pork pie, but the outer casing is white. The charming girl opened the lid of a massive steamer to reveal a huge hoard of them. The filling was minced pork, sweetened with dried fruit and various spices. Awesome! The next variety was a filling of egg yolk whisked with sugar, and a perfect way to accompany our daily ingestion of Doxycyline.

Then it was on to the juice bar. Tropical fruit juices are simply the best way to enjoy the flavours of travelling, as well as boosting the vitamin C intake! There are some important rules to follow, which, from time to time, we blindly disregard. Most importantly, you must never eat a fruit that you have not peeled yourself. Put another way, the water that may have washed the otherwise visually appealing mouthful will almost certainly make you very, very ill. Remember our unfortunate incidents last year? But here, it seems that the fruit is safe to order in portions and in shakes. After all, we’re not ill. Yet…

We ordered Durian. Just two small platefuls to say that we tried it. We waited. And waited.

And then IT arrived. “Eeeeeeew”. What a peculiar smell! And the texture: very strange. And the taste……..The best way to convey all this to you (in the comfort of your own home; thank God they haven’t invented scratch-and-sniff computers yet) is to think of the smell of rotting garbage, with the texture and flavour of thick vanilla custard with a slightly sour note: very cloying and unctuous.

They look far more interesting though with their numerous vicious spikes that cover their large, heavy mass. What’s more is that they grow high up in trees and could be fatal should one fall on somebody as they walk beneath it, which is rare but not unheard of. We needed soothing shakes to wash the durian down and get rid of the taste. Simon had a custard-apple shake, but Jon played it safe with the ubiquitous coconut shake.

The Cambodian’s aren’t short of a sweet tooth. Condensed milk is used plentifully in these shakes as they pour it into the mixture of ice and the chosen fruit, plus heaps of sugar just to make sure that you and your dentist keep in touch.

Thirst struck again a little later so we stopped for a couple of Cokes on the way back to the hostel, which turned out to be a bad idea as it gave us the burps and with each one came the strong aftertaste of the durian. Yuck! It couldn’t have been pleasant for anybody with whom we talked. No wonder it’s banned from airlines and hotels. Oh, wait, we’ll be using both in just a few hours…

Just before setting off for the airport, we made a quick morning dash to the amazing market of Psar Tuo Tom Pong. Here amidst hundreds of stalls selling household goods and hardware were some fantastic souvenir stalls, and right at the heart of the market was the food section, with fruit and vegetables to tempt all the senses, and numerous species of fish and fowl, together with their entrails, being prepared for grateful consumption. The smoke of cooking fires, charcoal and steam filled the dense air under the corrugated tin roofs.

At this point we thought it would be a great time to sit down with the locals at the tiled counter and join them in a hearty breakfast! This consisted of a large omelette filled with prawns, spring onions etc, laced with a spicy sauce and washed down with an iced coffee with a layer of condensed milk at the bottom. Not just great, but another successful exercise in total cultural immersion!
We even managed to find a stall selling wonderful ethnic musical instruments:

Ron, our fantastic American friend from Michigan who accompanied us all the way through Cambodia from the very first hour at the border town of Poipet, managed to buy a set of Cambodian coasters to take back home, whilst Simon invested in chopsticks: two pairs each of wooden and silver ones. Something tells us that these will be put to good use in the eating of traditional Khmer food… in Cornwall.

1 comment: