It should come as no surprise to you that I choose my travel destinations for trying new and exciting food. While researching food-related holiday destinations in December, we zeroed in on Cambodia. I was very fascinated by the Khmer history and cuisine, and the street food scene in Siem Reap. We booked our tickets and took off the next day on a backpacking trip to Cambodia for 7 days. Yes, a day of planning and packing. That’s how we roll – hubby and I.
We visited two cities – Siem Reap and Sinahoukville. We spent 3.5 days in each of the cities. We tried to soak up the best these two cities had to offer. From visiting the beautiful yet haunting temples to partying at Pub Street. From laying on pristine white sand beaches to diving into the deep for some water sports. We did it all. And, when it came to food, we left no stone unturned.
So, here is a list of 7 things you must do in Cambodia, if you love travelling for food:
1) Try street food at Old Market in Siem Reap:
First Lesson in Cambodia. I spent $75 at a highly recommended fine dining restaurant (Cuisine Wat Damnak), and then suffered THE husband’s ridicule for spending too much for average food, only to realize that the best food in Cambodia is in Old Market Street.
When you walk down the Old Market, you can see street food tuks tuks studded across either sides of the road. These quirky food carts on wheels are the perfect way of saving money without compromising on taste. The $1 Banana Pancake Nutella on our first night in Siem Reap was warm, homely and a happy delight. The pancake is a paper thin bread made by hand and served with fresh banana slices and lots of nutella. I have made these rotis in my Kottu Roti Recipe with not as much finesse.
Street food in Cambodia is super exciting. These bike carts are everywhere especially in #pubstreet #siemreap . We tried this yummy banana pancake made with this tradition south east Asian and srilankan style pastry. I have tried practicing this at home but haven't succeeded yet. #banana #pancake #Cambodia #streetfood #travel #wanderlust #traveldiaries #cambodiadiaries #datenight #foodielife #foodandtravel #foodporn #worldfood #worldonaplate #khmercuisine #foodventure #foodgasms #cambodiafoodseries
I had the best beef noodles I have ever eaten in my life, that too for $2. I have no idea of what sauces were in there, but OH MY GOD, those noodles were to die for. You can find pork buns, barbecued pork, fresh fruit juices, stone ice-cream, sweet & crispy coconut tuiles, that fooled me for a South Indian Dosa, all for less than $3. We missed the street food culture in Sihanoukville. So, if you are in Siem Reap, its your happy hour and you should eat all you can.
2) Go to restaurants with a cause and try local food :
There are some amazing restaurants, owned by expats serving local Khmer food. Some of these restaurant owners also run social enterprises for the welfare of the local Cambodian citizens, who are still recovering from the aftermaths of the savage civil war. We visited one such place called Haven at Cumber Wat in Siem Reap. We read about this place both on Travelfish.org and trip advisor and decided to give it a go. Nestled between trees, this small quaint place with not more than 8-9 tables stood up to the hype. We tried Fish Amok and Luk Lak, and stuffed rice dumpling served in sweet coconut milk.
We paid around around $5 per dish but it was worth it. We had the best local food in Cambodia here. We met the owner after our meal and he told us about the cause of his restaurant which was very inspiring. He runs a one year life skills training program for orphaned and disadvantaged kids for free. He trains these kids with skills for employment. We saw some of them working in the restaurant too. He also provides shelter, food, medicines, training allowance to these kids. I left happy and humbled.
3) Take a cooking class in Siem Reap:
I took the Cambodia Cooking classes at Soujourn Boutique Villas. I learnt 6 dishes including Fish Amok, Rice Dumpling dessert, and coconut tuiles . The Fish amok preparation is a lot like Thai Curry except the curry paste is slightly different. And instead of basil leaves, this dish uses Amok leaves, hence the name. I made the rice dumpling dessert with rice flour dough. I divided them into small balls, and stuffed each of these with palm sugar, sealing them and then steaming them.
My Khmer cooking class this morning and I made this for dessert: Sticky rice balls with a palm sugar topped with grated coconut. These fluffy rice balls made with rice flour and pandan juice were orgasmoballs. Will share a full series with recipes with you soon. And husband will love me more for making this for him. #foodielife #foodandtravel #khmercuisine #cambodiafoodseries #Cambodia #khmer #learningtocook #worldcuisine #worldfood #worldonaplate #wanderlust #foodie #foodblogger #DontGiveAFork #mumbaifoodie #tlc #buzzfeed #rice #dessert #palmsugar #Coconut #sweettooth
The coconut tuiles were a super delight. They seems like such a technical thing to make, but by the end of the class each of us managed to make pretty ones.
The chef was very friendly and spoke decent English for you to follow. We all got our own cooking stations and equipment, and of course a recipe book we could take home. We ate what we cooked once the classes were over. I paid $40 for a full day class which included a visit to the village. In retrospect, I could have taken a half day course.
4) Party at Pub Street drinking 50 cents draft beer:
The Pub Streets turns into a party haven post 10 p.m. everyday. I was very fascinated by these tuk-tuks pubs at the beginning of Pub Street. Music blared from each of these cocktail tuk tuks offering beer, shots and alcohol starting at 50 cents. Jagerbomb shots were for $2. Each tuk-tuk had its own customers dancing around to the music it played.
Most pubs on Pub Street have happy hours till 10 p.m. You can get the local draught – Cambodia and Angkor beer at $50 cents in all the pubs here. Post-midnight, everyone was on the streets dancing with loud music playing from everywhere. Other people were looking at the people dancing. Food and Alcohol carts were everywhere. Hookers were finding their way to single men in the crowd. Drunk folks walking and dancing. Saw a man walking around in a bikini too. Disco lights every where. Everything was sublime and felt from another world.
5) Try Happy Pizzas:
It may sound odd that I mention Pizzas as part of our Cambodian food experience. But trust me, it is important. There were two places where we had pizzas, and both places blew us away. One was more figurative than another because one of them is called Happy Pizza. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. And if you are still with me, these are in fact pizzas laced in cheese and… wait for it… Marijuana topping. Its illegal to smoke pot in Cambodia but its legal to eat them in a pizza. We found a string of Happy Pizza joints right next to each other in Old Market. In Sihanoukville, you can find a bunch of them behind the Serendipity beach. The husband went crazy on this shite and continued to be a happy man all evening. To order the special Pizza, you pick your regular pizza toppings and say – “I want them happy”.
The other Pizza experience we had was at Koh Rong Samoleum Island in Sinahoukville. We were on this island during Christmas eve. We made friends with some of the other guests in our resort and we all decided spend Christmas Eve together. To scout for a perfect place in the evening, we walked up the entire coastline to check for the best place to eat. We chose to live it up at a pizzeria called Moonlight Resort that served wood baked pizzas. And right here, in this beautiful restaurant overlooking the white sand beach and clean blue waters, I had the best Margherita pizza of my life.
6) Creepy Crawlies for the daring folks:
We were rather brave our first night and contemplated on trying the famous tarantula but settled for Frog Legs instead. We tried them at this live music pub called The Triangle on Pub Street and were super thrilled. I can understand why these creepy crawlies may be a bit much for most people.. But, if you have the slightest adventure in you, try Bugs Café, an Insect Tapas And Bar, in Siem Reap. They serve dishes with tarantulas, ants, scorpions, grass hoppers, in samosas, spring rolls, fried rice or just plain barbecued. A bit disguised and good for your courage. Speaking of courage, have to give it to my friend, Saroni Ghosh, who visited Cambodia a few weeks after we did, and accomplished this mean feat with utmost grace. Check her video out with her feedback on the creepies at Bug’s Cafe. I am so impressed with her 🙂
7) Buy Spices and tea at the Old Market
A true foodie will always carry local spices back home. While I was taking my cooking class, hubby dearest hired a bicycle and explored all of Siem Reap to find best places to eat, chill and shop. Once, my classes were over, he took me to Old Market to buy teas and spices for cheap. I bought 250g of red pepper, black pepper, white pepper, dried pandan leaves, lotus tea, hibiscus tea, all for $1 each. I had to put on the Indian haggler in me to get down to those prices. I also bought Cambodian filter coffee and dried palm sugar that will last you a year. I must have spent around $18-20 at most. This included the extra stuff I bought for my mom as she loves to cook as well.
Our food experiences in Sihanoukville were not that great except in the Moonlight resort and this pub called Wish you were here at Otres Beach I . But, there is no doubt about why Siem Reap is called the food haven of Cambodia. The food in this country is seriously underrated, but temples, not so much. Recipes from my cooking classes, are coming up soon.