Cambodian Beers a No-Show

Despite being entrants since its inception and proudly displaying their medals on the bottle, none of Cambodia’s breweries entered the 2006 Australian International Beer Awards. Regionally, BGI, Chang Light, Beer Lao and Myanmar Beer all made an effort, with Chang Light receiving a bronze in the International Lager – Other section.

For a full listing of the 2006 winners and losers, read the AIBA catalogue of results. For anyone loosely interested in small breweries, the list of exhibitors at the end is a good wrap up of the rapidly expanding list of microbreweries in Australia.

Great Balls Of Coconut, Laos

Great Balls Of Coconut, Laos Great Balls Of Coconut

There are very few street vendors that manage to bridge the sweet/savory divide, but this one has managed to construct an appropriate overpass using sweet coconut balls and quail eggs at Talat Sao in Vientiane, Laos. The balls are formed from a sweet, coconut-infused batter which I believe also contains a good portion of rice flour to make the balls slightly gluey on the inside, but still slightly crispy on the outside.

After cooking a few rounds of balls, she alternates to meticulously cracking open and frying half-spheres of quail eggs in her aebleskiver-like pan. The eggs are served with Laos’ favorite condiment: fish sauce. Balls were a few hundred kip each.

Laos Food Bonanza

Buddha Park, Laos

When my commentary on Khmer food slows down, I’m usually out of Cambodia and this time it was in the only Indochinese country described as sleepier than Cambodia: Lao PDR. Thanks to having some friends in Vientiane, I did get to eat a fairly representative sample of the local delicacies.

Sticky rice (kao neaw) is both self explanatory and ubiquitous as the national staple. The process to make it seems complex enough that it involves a fire, a purpose-built basket and constant attention; akin to the early years of ballooning but with slightly less chance of setting yourself on fire and crashing back to earth in a ball of fiery death. It might give the rice a stickier and more fibrous texture, but I think that I would rarely have the time on my hands that it takes to prepare.

In more proof that if you can grind up an animal, you can eat it, laap, the ever-popular minced meat salad, is available in every imaginable meat. I managed to fit in laap in five different ground animal flavours but none in the evil non-meat equivalent, tofu laap. Whenever I attempt to build myself some laap, I can never balance the chili/lime/galangal/fish sauce properly, and so every Laotian laap I ate fills me with both shame and meaty deliciousness. I heard tales of iguana laap but had no success in finding a local lizard grinder or procuring myself an iguana. The local Laos green papaya salad (Tam Mak Hung) is spicier than our Khmer variety and there also seems to be a marked preference to go a little crazy on the fish sauce.

Rice cakes drying in Luang Prabang, Laos
Roadside rice cake production, Laos-style

For me, the two main drawcards of Luang Prabang seemed to be the town’s World Heritage listing and a regionally famous snack made from dried sheets of river algae that comes with a buffalo rind and chili sambal.

From the early part of the dry season, northern Laotians harvest river algae (kai) that they then proceed to sun-dry before pressing into flat sheets with sesame seeds and local vegies. The resulting algae paper (kaipen) tastes like the kelp wrapping from a sushi roll, deep-fried; and the traditional accompanying paste made from ground chili and buffalo rind tasted much like someone had set a fistful of large, sliced rubberbands alight in my mouth with roughly the same texture. Before coming to Laos, I was told that it was “a great snack to eat with Beer Lao” which I should have translated as “a great snack to eat when incomprehensibly drunk”. The buffalo isn’t all bad, as Laotians also make an excellent buffalo sausage.

As for restaurants:

Moon The Night – Not a suggestion for an lewd gesture aimed at the evening but a local restaurant overlooking the Mekong, upstream from the main strip. Like every good local Indochinese restaurant, it blares local pop music at earbleed levels. Their duck laap was excellent although padded out with various offal. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

The strip of local restaurants that line the Mekong roughly opposite the Lane Xang Hotel seem to vary in quality with the weather, but are good for a cheap sticky rice and laap fix.

My brother, who worked in Laos for a while recommended me…

KhuVieng Fried Chicked (KFC). If this doesn’t make a phnomenon write-up, the universe is in a state of imbalance. The crispiness of the chicken puts the Colonel to shame, yet the establishment is somehow notably absent from my edition of the LP. It’s near a large tree about three-quarters of the way down Khu Vieng street if you’re heading towards the Australia Club. It’s on the right and easy to miss, so take your time.

…but I couldn’t find it in several very slow passes on my hired Suzuki Viva. However, just off Khu Vieng is a great spring roll store aptly named The Spring Roll Store. Their spring rolls aren’t bad but the mystery rice salad that accompanies the rolls is excellent. There are two ingredients in it that I can’t identify and I’ll mail a can of your choice of Klang to anyone who can speak enough Laotian to find out. If you’re in Phnom Penh, I’ll drop it by your house in person. One of the components is deep-fried (a spring roll part? Deep-fried leftovers?) and the other is a vegetable (Green papaya? Mango? Cucumber?).

I heart bacon

JoMa Café – So barang that it physically hurts but that didn’t stop me from visiting both the Vientiane and Luang Prabang outlet for Bagel Eggers (17000 kip, above; no relation to David) and good espresso with choice of local or imported beans. I’m on holiday. Your Cambodian breakfast bobor is no match for the true might of a bacon sarnie and decent coffee. Location: On Sethathirath Road in VT; Near cnr of Sisavangvong Rd and Setthatihilat Rd in LP

Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang Night Market – At the end of the night market (opposite the daytime Handicraft Market), a small alleyway becomes a Laotian street food emporium. Despite being on the way to dinner elsewhere, I did my best to pick up a selection of deep-fried things (a few balls of deep-fried sticky rice coating a nugget of banana, 5000kip for a hefty bagful; spring rolls, 2000kip worth) to eat en route. There were some good sized racks of pork that I would have had a crack at, but thought it might offend my fellow diners if I rocked up with half a side of a pig.

The Apsara, Luang Prabang, Laos

The ApsaraHerbert Ypma’s Hip Hotels calls this place “the most chic hotel in Luang Prabang” which I only know because they had two different copies of Ypma’s trendspotting tome displayed on their coffee table. Seems to be the only modern place in town that recognises Luang Prabang’s period of suzerainty under Jayavaraman VII, at least in name although no Cambodian food from that era on their “Asian fusion” menu. Their $6 steak frites (below) was a cheap, unidentifiable cut but at that price I would be happy to gnaw on a another strip of buffalo. I take my iron where I can get it. Location: Ban Wat Sene, Thanon Kingkitsarath, Luang Prabang.


Are there any Laos food blogs out there? Comments are open.

Black Panther Stout

Cambodian Beer - Black Panther Stout by Cambrew
Brewer: Cambrew

To let the cat out of the bag is an especially cruel idiom for anyone who has actually either seen a bagged cat or attempted to bag one for themselves. Folk etymology has it that the idiom developed from the practice of unscrupulous suckling pig vendors substituting a live cat for a pig, (“the pig in a poke”). Letting the cat out of the bag discloses a horrible and much less-tasty secret. Cambrew have let the cat out of the bag, a bag that they should sink back into the aphotic depths of the Tonle Sap filled with horseshoes.

Cambrew says“Black Panther Stout is a stout named after the powerful symbol for strength, energy and health. Black Panther Stout embodies the full quality of a stout with an alcohol content of 8% to 8.3% by volume. Black Panther Stout is robust, full bodied with special bitterness and a strong hoppy aroma, to put back what the day has taken out.”

I say: I was hoping for an imperial stout that did Huey P. Newton proud. J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers “the greatest threat to internal security in the United States” and I believe that this beer is an equal threat to the security of my internal organs. Alcohol content is 8%, so Black Panther burns on the way down like setting fire to Watts in 1966 and then beats you about the liver like a COINTELPRO agent. Thin head, burnt butter and molasses flavours. Finish is dry and astringent.

Availability: Widely available, can only

If this beer was an animal, it would be: A jive turkey

The Minimalist Cambodian Ginger Fry

Jinja tipped me off about a recipe in the New York Times for The Minimalist Cambodian Ginger Fry (login required). NYT’s coverage of Cambodia (and food) is always good for a laugh, so here is their version of trei chien chnay.

Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, as needed
½ pound ginger, preferably thin-skinned
1½ pounds snapper, sea bass, catfish or other firm, white-fleshed fillet, cut into large chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup flour
1 cup cornstarch
4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 tablespoon good soy sauce or fish sauce (nam pla)
Cilantro leaves for garnish.

1. Choose a pot that will accommodate the fish chunks in one layer. Add 2 to 3 inches of oil, turn heat to medium-high, and bring to 350 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, peel ginger (if skin is thin, this is best accomplished with a spoon) and julienne it, slice it thinly, or peel strips with a vegetable peeler. When oil is hot, fry ginger until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary so the temperature remains nearly constant. Meanwhile, season the fish with salt and pepper, and combine flour and cornstarch in bowl.

3. Remove ginger with slotted spoon and set aside. Dredge fish lightly in the cornstarch-flour mixture, tapping to remove excess, and slowly add pieces to oil, again adjusting heat as necessary so temperature remains nearly constant. Fry, turning once or twice, until fish is lightly browned and cooked through (a skewer or a thin-blade knife will pass through each chunk with little resistance). Remove with slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels.

4. Fry scallions for 15 seconds and remove with a slotted spoon; drain. Refry the ginger for about 30 seconds, then remove and drain. Put fish on plate and garnish with ginger and scallions; drizzle with soy sauce or fish sauce, top with cilantro, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

I haven’t eaten the actual Cambodian reference point for this recipe. The closest thing that I can think of is much more similar to Mylinh’s recipe at Khmer Krom Recipes with the whole fish deep-fried and a good handful of non-fried ginger shards over the top. Interesting.

Tip Off: Talkin’ to a Stranger has proper beer

As you may have guessed from my Cambodian beer reviews, I sorely miss a bottle-conditioned beer. As if St. Arnold had answered my hop-infused prayers, Talkin’ to a Stranger now has it in the form of South Australian beers, Coopers Sparkling Ale and Coopers Pale Ale. At $3 a bottle, I’ll drop by whenever my palate needs resetting.

Location: Talkin’ to A Stranger, #21, Street 294, not far from the corner of Sothearos.

Recipes: Zombie Chicken

“You take the chicken, and you pluck the chicken while it’s still alive, and you baste the skin with a mixture of soya, wheat germ and dripping, I think it was. And apparently this makes it look like the skin’s been roasted. You then put the head of this live chicken under its tummy and rock it to sleep. Then you get two other chickens and you roast them. And you bring these three chickens out on a tray to the table. You start carving one of the roasted chickens. And. . .the one that is still alive but sleeping goes sort of ‘Wha!’ — head pops up — and it runs off down the table…

And that’s Part 1. Then you take this poor chicken, and you kill it, and you stuff its neck with a mixture of quicksilver, which is mercury, and sulfur, and then stitch it up. And apparently — obviously I haven’t tried this at home, or at work — the expanding air in the neck cavity as you roast causes the mercury and the sulfur to react and somehow creates a clucking noise.”

Sweet Zombie Jesus.

The New York Times delivers us an interview with Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck, speaking of 14th Century French food. Yes, completely unrelated to Cambodian food but so entirely compelling. Not to mention that it would take balls of solid steel to carve a chicken full of boiling quicksilver at the table.

Ever dreamt of owning a piece of colonial Kep?


Since March 2004, a group of foreign investors has rehabilitated what is most likely THE most historically valuable and charming piece of real estate on the Cambodian seaside. As of April 2006, it is 90% complete, the old mansion turned into a restaurant, bar and reception; scattered in the 1,3 ha (3,33 acres) park are 14 cottages offering 17 luxurious rooms for guests. Infrastructure has been designed and executed following international standards.

The disappearance of project’s founder has now forced the owners to offer it for sale. None of them can operate the projected eco-touristic resort.

I was looking forward to this restaurant opening because from the building alone, it was shaping up as an excellent counterpoint to eating a cheap crab meal in dodgier surrounds. You’ve never really experienced the true joy of operating a business in Cambodia until a key element of it goes missing.

Looking to buy? see:

Drinking the Google Kool Aid

Recently I’ve hooked Phnomenon up with Google Analyticsand for someone with a marketing background and a firm belief in the importance of measurability, it makes me want to cry warm tears of pure unadulterated joy. The ability to work out campaign return on investment at the click of a button, for free, gives me a cult-like devotion to it. I have drunk the Google Kool Aid and it tastes extra-fruity. I haven’t been paying forensic attention to my web statistics but now I can no longer avoid it for it is a matter of the true faith.

The offshoot of this has been the discovery that people find their way to my website in ways much weirder than I can imagine. For those waylaid souls who came here looking for something that I don’t provide, here is the answer to your outlandish Google searches:

  • “What to do if I get diarrhoea in Cambodia” – I’m not a doctor but I do play one on television and as is my answer to all health-related questions: self-medicate. Check the consistency and frequency of your poop then follow this handy diarrhoea flowchart. Also make a note to self never to use the words “diarrhoea flow” consecutively.
  • “Food what daddy yankee eat” – Aside from wanting to cast aspersions on your grip on grammar, I doubt that the food what Daddy Yankee eat is of Khmer origin. The Washington Post reports that Mr. Yankee’s reggaeton stylings and his cadre of publicists are fuelled by Japanese food.
  • “JetstarAsia review” – I have developed an intense hatred for JetstarAsia because last time I flew with them, they cancelled my SIN-PNH leg and couldn’t get me on a flight for another whole week. This parlous state of affairs resulted in me flying ignominiously back to Phnom Penh via Bangkok with a one-day stopover. Flying Jetstar is completely joyless. Even flying on the shittiest Third World airline has some semblance of joy because when the plane lands the pilot generally receives rousing applause from the passengers. The one consolation is that aboard the JetstarAsia plane is the cheapest place in Singapore to purchase a cold Tiger beer.
  • “fish is important to Cambodian” – Your question is in the form of an undeniable statement. You are looking for The Ministry of Fish
  • “epiphany apocalyptic hp cabo” – I have no idea for what you’re searching but you truly scare me, because somebody has been looking for this more than once. Feed this into the Googlemonster’s maw and Phnomenon’s Cambodian hamburger review comes out the other end. Coincidence: I think not.

In addition, my humble Kambodzsai gasztroblog has also received a bucketload of visitors from Hungary since Hungarian foodblogger Chilies and Vanilia either arrived in Indochina or has just shown a sudden interest in the region. My Hungarian is not so good.