I left the 106 degree weather in India…to reach a cool, balmy 95 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is also the beginning of the monsoon season so there has been one shower a day – so refreshing and wonderful!
Siem Reap is known for the temples of Angkor Wat, once Hindu temples that were converted to Buddhist temples. They are amazing – and there are many. Tomb Raider was actually filmed at one of these temples – the Ta Prohm Temple – also known as the “jungle temple.” The trees look like they are holding the temples, their roots grasping onto the stone buildings tightly.
One thing to also hold tightly to here is the cuisine. Cambodian food is not as spicy as neighboring Thailand, but uses similar ingredients found in southeast Asia: lemongrass, sweet basil, turmeric. Fresh fruit like dragonfruit and durian – which I am probably one of the few who love the smell – line the street markets. I spent a lovely afternoon yesterday learning to cook a few Cambodian dishes at Le Tigre de la Papier, a restaurant/cooking school/hotel, tucked in the little alley of restaurants that cater to foreigners and tourists – which there are a lot of here.
The class starts with a tour around the market at the Old Market – an area bustling with vendors selling fruits of all sorts, fish chopped in half, and chickens split open with their entrails intact. Dried sausages and fish hang from ceilings and chicken feet abound. Children wander around the market, begging for extras or a few dollars.
The cooking process is uncomplicated, but requires a lot of preparation. Measurements are exactly…exact. We made several dishes, including lok lak (beef), spicy shrimp, and the famous Khmer dish, amok chicken. The amok curry needs to be chopped and ground if made from scratch. Some of the key ingredients (bottom right) include: lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, galangal root, and keffir lime leaf.
The dishes turned out, admittedly, amazing. The spicy shrimp salad (top left, made with hot red chilis – my fingers still burn), a banana flower salad (top right), and a green mango salad. We also made plates with banana leaves, filling them with amok chicken (bottom left) and the lok lak turned out delicious as well (bottom right).
Here is a simple recipe for amok chicken (sorry the measurements may not be exact!):
2 inches turmeric root, sliced thinly
2 inches galangal root, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
couple bunches keffir lime leaf
3 stalks lemongrass (use bottom parts – top parts you can smash to add flavor to soups), chopped thinley
2 TB shrimp paste
Half onion, chopped
1 cup coconut milk (estimated)
1/2 cup sliced wild mushrooms
1/2 pound sliced chicken
1. Add chopped turmeric, galangal, garlic, and lemongrass to mortar and pestle. Pound until crushed.
2. Add shrimp paste and ground until it makes a paste
3. Heat skillet with vegetable oil – add bit of solution of vinegar-paprika-water (for color).
4. Add the paste and fry for a couple minutes
5. Add onions and fry for a few minutes until translucent
6. Add chicken and cook for few minutes until cooked
7. Add mushrooms for a few minutes
7. Add water as necessary so as not to dry out
8. Add coconut milk and allow to thicken
9. Add water or coconut milk accordingly so as not to be too thick or too dry
10. Add keffir lime leaf and remove from heat
My fingers are still yellow from the turmeric, a lovely reminder of learning a little bit of a lovely and enduring food tradition.