Pacharan does Ho Chi Minh

According to the latest FCC Cambodia propaganda, FCC will be spreading their tapas tentacles Saigon-wards with a new Pacharan restaurant in District 1 at 97 Hai Ba Trung. It will be interesting to see if they can clone the success that they’re having in Cambodia in a much tougher and more discerning restaurant market. No firm opening dates as yet.

Previously on Phnomenon: Pacharan review

Take your stinking paws off my stout, you damned dirty ape!

New to the Cambodian blog scene, Details are Sketchy reprints the Cambodia Daily’s monkey o’ the day scoop: jealous ape hooked on stout.

Forestry officials will investigate reports that customers at a Battambang province restaurant have been plying a pet monkey with multiple cans of ABC Stout after it developed a taste for the eight-percent alcoholic drink, an official said Wednesday.

Three-year-old Mira recently started drinking at least three cans of stout per day, apparently to cope with jealously caused by waitresses pretending to flirt with male customers, according to Rath Sorphea, owner of Sorphea Restaurant in Battambang district.

Too much monkey-related news is never enough.

Previously on Phnomenon: ABC Stout

Banteay Meanchey Noodle Crisis

From the American ABC, via Associated Press:

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia Jun 26, 2006 (AP)— Thirty Cambodians suffered food poisoning after eating homemade noodles contaminated with chewing tobacco that had dropped into the batter from the cook’s mouth, police said Monday.

The victims, mostly children, began vomiting after eating noodle soup for breakfast Friday in a village in Banteay Meanchey province, about 190 miles northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh, said Deputy District Police Chief Yort Ray.

An investigation turned up traces of chewing tobacco in the noodles and led police to 39-year-old wholesale noodle vendor Sieng Seng, who had supplied the shops where people got sick.

Sieng Sang, an avid tobacco chewer like many poor Cambodian women, said she had not realized a wad had dropped into the flour as she was talking.

Firstly, it is nice to see that the Cambodian police force is cracking down on the spate of noodle crime in Cambodia’s wild Northwest, instead of those minor problems of grave-looting, land-grabbing or logging Cambodia bare.

Secondly, despite being widely republished, I have my doubts that this news is entirely accurate. Although I could confirm this morning that Yorth Ray is actually a police chief in the Northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey, I couldn’t confirm whether he attended the poisoning or delivered the impromptu lecture on sanitary food preparation mentioned later in the article. Who tracks food poisonings in remote Banteay Meanchey? Did all thirty people attend the district hospital or is the number of vomiters pure hearsay? How much tobacco do you need to ingest to be sickened? Is it less than one thirtieth of a mouthful? If anyone can answer these questions with certainty, I’d be keen to know.

Although the chewing tobacco factor lends the article an edge, it does leave me wondering why this Cambodian case was widely reprinted from Associated Press when other mass food poisonings in the region (e.g. 100 tourists in Vietnam last week , 2300 schoolkids in South Korea the week before) received so much less interest in the West.

Vegetarian noodles at Psar Orussei

Psar Orussei is the market where you can find all of the crap that you can’t find at any other market in Cambodia. My first impression of the place was that it was extremely handy if you lived in Phnom Penh, but nigh on useless if you were just passing through. Partly, this was because I had never arrived there at seven in the morning for both breakfast and to find cardboard boxes with a vegetarian.

I hold the strong belief that vegetarians are nuts. If the Gods had wanted us to eat only vegetables, they would have sent forth a bacon tree and possibly a steak bush to keep the halal and kosher folk prostrate in veneration for Them as well. Thankfully for vegetarians, a very small handful of Cambodians are pro-herbivore and much less on the militant carnivore jihad than I am. Let it be known that I tolerate vegetarians, if only to convert them to my true faith.

At 7am, the central food vendor section of Psar Orussei is buzzing with locals looking for their morning noodle or pork and rice injection. The vegetarian specialists were easy to find: they all have “VEGETA RIAN” or variants thereof plastered across the front of their stalls. After much conferring, Stall 177 was deemed the pick of the anti-meat vendors. I opted for the rice noodle soup (khtieav).

Noodles at Psar Orussei

If I happened to be shipwrecked on a vegetarian island, after I had eaten my comrades and my stock of human jerky began to dwindle, wheat gluten would become my favourite meat analogue. In my soup, you will notice two distinct forms of gluten, fecklessly pretending to be meat. A few rubbery mushroom balls, lettuce, spring onions, and a single slice of carrot provide some more flotsam in the thin vegetable stock. Proportionally, there was an excellent ratio of rice noodle to flotsam. My vegetarian friend heartily approves.

Coffee at Psar Orussei

One third condensed milk, two-thirds coffee: from zero to toothless crone in a single glass.

Vegetarian khtieav and a cup of coffee (2500 riel, US$0.62)

Location: Stall 177, ground floor, Psar O’Russei, Phnom Penh

Chinese Noodles Restaurant

Noodle Goodness at Chinese Noodles Phnom Penh

Cambodian restaurants tend to have a deconstructive approach to their kitchen design. More often than not barbecuing is seperated from the rest of the cooking to keep the smoke at bay, but occasionally there is a tendency to knock it up a notch, and say, wash your dishes in a neighbouring house or cook a single component of your meals off-site at an undisclosed location.

Chinese Noodles have caught on to this postmodern wave. The customer needs to dodge past the noodlemaster (above) and the boiling pots of stock at the front of house to enter, and if they happen to order fried noodles, the fresh noodles from the front are transported to somewhere at the back of the restaurant to get the full wok treatment. Dumplings and tea seems to arrive from all directions.

The restaurant seats about thirty in rickety, lurid red steel chairs. Each table is bedecked in the classic “tablecloth under glass” and has no less than eight plastic bottles of light soy sauce, possibly so that each member of your table can wield a bottle in each fist. The place is always packed at lunchtime, so between 12 and 2pm expect that you may only be able to secure yourself a single bottle with which to defend yourself.

I arrived around 1:30 and was guided to the only spare seat in the house. I shared my table with two Central American guys who loudly compared Uruguayan and Argentinian women in Spanish, and a lone but chatty Chinese man who was amazed at my dexterity with the chopsticks and was somehow responsible for ensuring that a large number of Cambodia’s garment factories never run short of power. For someone that had spent the last ten years in Phnom Penh taunting the fickle Cambodian gods of electricity, he was a remarkably jovial fellow.

The menu has not more than 12 items, eight of which are noodle (fried or soup), a choice of fried or steamed pork and chive dumplings, and the mystery items: “mixed stewed meats” and “pure stewed meats”. All are between one and two dollars, except for the stewed meats which will set you back at least three dollars.

Noodle Goodness

While I was taking shots of the fried pork and chive dumplings ($1, above), my digital camera gave up the ghost. Count this as the first review where the main event, Noodle Soup with Pork ($1), is photographically absent.

The stock in the noodle soup was much less complex than Vietnamese pho, but sweet with plenty of porkfat and MSG umami-punch. The greenery component consists of wilted lettuce, already added to the soup. Lettuce should not be a soup ingredient, and once it is in there, is remarkably difficult to avoid eating. The noodles were spot on: perfectly textured, inconsistently shaped but as fresh as a mountain stream; as were the slices of pork: thick, fatty, and almost too rich for lunch. Iced tea was complimentary.

Location:On Monivong near the corner of St. 278

Food Map: Phnom Penh

Within the last two days, Google updated their satellite map of Phnom Penh. While I have so far resisted the urge to take a look at the helicopter pad in Hun Sen’s backyard, I’m not going to miss the opportunity to start mapping out all of the locations of where I fill my belly in Asia’s least-hyped food destination.

I present to you the Food Map: Phnom Penh.

The contents are a little anorexic for a food map, but I’ll try and add most of my back catalogue to it by the weekend. Enjoy.

Interview: Mylinh Nakry Danh from Khmer Krom Recipes

At the second and penultimate New Year, I made a bold resolution to do a spot of interviewing about Cambodian food as an adjunct to simply rocking up to somebody’s stall and asking the vendor what they’re deep-frying today. I’ve also been enthused by Andy Brouwer’s new blog that profiles Cambodians from all walks of life.

The shining light in online Cambodian recipes is Khmer Krom Recipes. At the moment, there is no other English-language Khmer food resource as comprehensive: currently the site lists 561 recipes according to the site’s Khmer Krom expat owner, Mylinh Nakry Danh, not to mention spotter’s guides to Cambodian ingredients, fruit and vegetables.

Now living in the USA, Mylinh started the site as a way to “do something to keep our Khmer Krom culture alive and visible to the public. So much of our culture is take over or disappearing over time as our country was taken and given away to Vietnamese”. I’m all for mixing food and politics, and Kampuchea Krom/Cambodian border politics are some of the murkiest, emotive, and more dangerous of the identity politics locally available. Thanks to my extreme lack of knowledge of these affairs and this website being about Cambodian food, I stuck to asking occasionally torturous questions about Mylinh’s recipes by email.

Who taught you to cook? Who was the best cook in your family?

I learned how to cook from my parents, family and friends. My mom is very good cook but my dad is the best cook in my family. Sorry, mom.

Are there any ingredients that are impossible to find in America?

America is a big country, every state is different, and one state may carry more Asian food than other. I can only tell you that where I live it is hard to find Cambodian ingredients. For example, Cambodian sausage (made with beef), dried salty fish “ngiet trey tok”, pahok trey naing (pickle Asian catfish), and vegetables like fresh bamboo shoots, fresh Neem leaf, “Sadao”, just to name a few. Possibly living in a very large Cambodian community such as Long Beach, California or Lowell, Massachusetts, there would be more of these ingredients available.

Are there foods that you especially miss from Cambodia?

You’re torture me with this question because I miss so many foods from home.

I miss “num pong”, it is white fluffy coconut rice cake that steamed in bamboo stalk. It’s not too sweet and absolutely delicious. I miss “tirk tholk” the most, it is fresh palm juice, not only I miss “tirk tholk” I also miss seeing the elderly man carry heavy bamboo stalks that filled with delicious palm juice on his shoulder. I miss Kampuchea Krom.

Since being in America, do you think that your ideas about food have changed?

My answer: Yes, of course. Now that I am explored more on foods and flavors from all over the world and they are all very good. But I am always drawn back to the traditional foods of my childhood.

Are there any regional differences between recipes from Kampuchea Krom and those from elsewhere in Cambodia? Are there any regional specialties?

Yes, I think that happens everywhere in the world not just only Khmer in Kampuchea Krom and Khmer in Cambodia. “Salor machu” is sweet, sour soup in English. Some Khmer like their “salor machu” spicy hot, other like sweeter or sourer, some Khmer can’t cook with out MSG and some Khmer can’t live without ” pahok” (pickle fish). How do you cook rice? Some people like rice stick together so they add more water. Some people like their rice fluffy so they use less water, but no matter how you cook, its all cooked rice.

There are 21 provinces in Kampuchea Krom and each province has their specialties. For example: Mee Sar (My Tho) province has excellent noodle that made with mung bean. Kamourn Sor (Rach Gia) province is world renowned for seafood and Koh Tral (Phu Quoc) is land for fish sauce. Mott Chrouk (Chau Doc) province is known for Mam (fermented fish) and Pahok (pickle fish).

Do you have a favourite recipe from your website that I could share with my readers?

It’s difficult for me to pick just one out of 561 recipes that on my website because they are my favorite. However, I think your readers will enjoy Khmer Krom vegetarian spring roll.

Recipe: Khmer Krom Vegetarian Spring Roll (Num cha gio pale)

Cambodian food - Spring Rolls

Mylinh from Khmer Krom Recipes recommended the following recipe for vegetarian spring rolls to my reader(s).

Crispy vegetables spring roll with tofu, taro root, cabbage and carrot is very delicious. Khmer Krom vegetarian spring roll is so good that most my friends can’t tell it made without meat.

Ingredients :

  • 2 Cups already shredded taro root
  • 2 Cups already shredded carrot
  • 1 Package 12 oz fried tofu, julienne
  • 2 Cups already shredded cabbage
  • 1 Cup chopped yellow onion
  • 4 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • ¼ Teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Package 25 pieces spring roll shells
  • ½ Cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 Cups vegetable oil for deep fry spring roll

Procedures :
Mixed shredded taro root and carrot in a large mixing bowl, and use your palms to squeezes out all it liquid. Add tofu, onion, garlic and cabbage, mixed well. Seasoning with sugar, soy sauce and black pepper, mixed well and set it a side. In a small bowl, mixed water with cornstarch together, mix well and set a side. Gentle pulls out each spring roll shell to separate from other shell. Lay one sheet flat on a cutting board or plate, spoon mix vegetables and put on 1/3 of the shell. Wrap the vegetables filling in spring roll shell, roll it tight and seal the end with cornstarch water, continue to roll till the filling gone.

Note: If you haven’t made spring roll before, look at the back of spring roll pastry package, it has illustrated instruction for you to follow.

Heat 6 cups cooking oil in high temperature. When oil is hot, deep fried spring roll till crispy golden brown. Removed spring roll from hot oil and put on plate covered with paper towel to drained oil. Serve hot with sweet soy sauce, or with rice noodle and vegetarian fish sauce.

See:Khmer Krom Vegetarian Spring Roll

Donuts at Bokor Cinema

Come rain or shine, this husband and wife donut duo never move from just outside the Bokor Cinema on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. They’ve always got a customer or four hanging around which generally bodes well. I’m almost embarrassed when I drop in because I see them every day on my way to work and am yet to purchase a single deep-fried product from them. Through sheer weight of luck, I happened upon them when they were cutting up a fresh batch. The process is as follows:

Donuts at Bokor Cinema
Firstly, remove your dough from the plastic bag underneath the roof of your cart, where it has been proving in the scorching heat.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Secondly, clean the surface of your cart (as unbelievable as this may sound) and give it a liberal dusting with riceflour. Flatten your wheat/rice flour dough out with a rolling pin.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Thirdly, cut into strips, paying attention not to accidentally remove your enormous, decorative thumbnail in the process. Roll into flat disks and dust with a few sesame seeds. Hand over to your wife, the deep frying expert.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Serve to the Westerner who is paying far too much attention and asking too many questions for your liking. Charge him 500 riel (12.5 cents) for four.

I’m glad that I didn’t drop in earlier as I’d probably be about ten kilos heavier by now. These yeasty pillows are packed with chewy deliciousness: hollow to the core, only slightly sweet, and blisteringly hot out of the fryer. Sadly, I didn’t get the Khmer name for them, although I had a longer than usual, Beckettian interrogation of the vendors that ran along these lines:

Phil: What are these?
Vendor: (Nervous laugh) You understand Khmer.
Phil: Yes. A little. What are these?
Vendor: Food
Phil: Bread?
Vendor: Yes. Bread.
Phil: Fried bread?
Vendor: Yes. Fried bread.
Phil: Are they chaway*? or fried bread?
Vendor: I don’t have any chaway.
Phil: Yes, I understand. What are these?
Vendor: Food.
Phil: (Clutches head in hands)

Location: Just west of Bokor Cinema, near the corner of St. 95 and Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, Phnom Penh

* – Chaway are the donuts that you often have with soup, similar to the Chinese donuts that you eat with congee.

Addendum (21 June 2006): As a very weird aside, according to AsianWeek in 2000, 90 percent of California’s independent doughnut stores are owned by Cambodian expats.