Reports of my death greatly exaggerated

Preah Khan, Siem Reap

Sorry about the writing hiatus, I escaped Phnom Penh for a few days over Pchum Benh: the Buddhist religious holiday wherein you offer food at seven temples to sate the bloodlust of your undead relatives, lest they return to wreak unholy vengeance upon the living. Or something along those lines. I managed to fit in some impressive ruin visiting (pictured above/below) and eating some equally impressive food.

Normal service will resume soon, with a bit of non-Phnom Penh content.

Preah Khan, Siem Reap

Spy Wine Cooler: Red

Spy Wine Cooler: Red

Brewer: Siam Winery Co Ltd

One of my friends in Australia was obsessed for a mercifully short period of time with creating a “lolly pie” by melting down lolly snakes (or Gummy snakes for my American readership) and then pouring the resulting lukewarm mash into a blind-baked pie crust. If I had intervened at some point and suggested pouring the hot candy sludge into a cheap 4 litre cask of red wine, the resulting candied wine beverage would be named Spy Red.

The initial nose of American grape jello with a hint of latex did not augur well. On tasting, the lightly carbonated faux-grape and raspberry syrup made me realize that if red Jelly Babies could urinate, I now know where they would. The 6% alcohol by volume is completely submersed under the weight of the sugar and synthetic additives.

The small label on the bottle is curiously informative, offering a practical recipe if you were keen replicate Spy Red in your own home:

Wine 50%
Sparkling Water 41%
Syrup 8.7%
Citric Acid 0.2%
Natural Flavours 0.1%

Location: Most larger drink stores, Cambodia-wide

Price: Unknown, unceremoniously dumped at my house after a barbecue.

If this wine cooler was preferred by an enslaved mythical race, it would be: Oompa Loompa

Naem

Neam

Delicious Cambodian fish salami. If there are four words that I could never have foreseen myself using, it would be those. These cubes of banana leaf open up to reveal a smaller cube of uncooked white fish paste, lime and chili mix, protected by a neam leaf. Scrap the banana leaves, eat the rest, neam leaf inclusive.

Neam

They can be snacked on immediately, but when left to mature in the refrigerator for two or three days, the naem improve by taking on a slightly sourer edge. The flavour compares well to a decent salami.

Neam

It’s like a Khmer Kinder Surprise, only filled with cerviche. Surprise!

These fishy cubes constitute one of the primary reasons for my desire to travel to Stung Treng, the halfway point on the way to Cambodia’s far northeastern province of Ratanakiri. One of my friends who occasionally passes through Stung Treng has a special relationship with a naem manufacturer who will increase the chili content for both himself and his crazy chili junky friends back in Phnom Penh.There is some debate as to whether Stung Treng or Kratie produces the better naem, and after eating my way through this most recent batch, I’m willing to pin the gold on Stung Treng’s lapel.
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Midday Mee Mamak Mission

Mee Mamak at Mamaks Corner

Most workers in Phnom Penh get a two hour lunch break from twelve until two. The thought of scoffing down a cheap sandwich while hunched over a keyboard is literally unthinkable for most Phnom Penhois, not for the least reason that most Cambodians don’t work on computers nor do they enjoy the charm of sliced bread.

Two hours allows time for a multiple course meal and a snooze, and for me, plenty of time to obsess about what to eat for lunch and then immediately write about it. A few days ago, Robyn from EatingAsia went on a road trip to hunt down an excellent mee mamak, a Malaysian fried noodle dish that would be the likely result of Kerala meeting Guangdong in Penang for a food fight. I’ve been thinking about having it for lunch ever since and so headed for Mamak’s Corner, an Indian-Muslim Malaysian restaurant that I’ve been recommended previously.

Mee Mamak

I wanted to be smacked around by chili heat in the mee mamak and arrive back at the office two hours later, still shaking and wide-eyed from the endorphin rush. This mee was light on the heat and lacked the curry flavors, potato, and red onion that mark it as a food that came from the Malaysian intermixture of Chinese and Indian cultures. A few smallish prawns and squid slices provided the meat component. I was a little let down, but I’m not going to write off Mamak’s Corner after eating only one dish there – the 100% Malaysian crowd at lunchtime indicates that there must be some excellent dining secrets hidden somewhere between its menu and bain marie.

$2 for a plate.

Location: Deceptively, Mamak’s Corner is not on a corner. It’s on St.114 near the corner of St.61. Mamak’s is halal.

See also: Care For a Side of Diesel Exhaust With Your Noodles? for possibly the world’s greatest mee mamak.

Banned in China

Sensing the imminent threat that Cambodian food poses to the one party system, the PRC Government banned Phnomenon in mainland China this morning. They must have taken umbrage to the statement that I made a few days ago that “democracy does not work“.

As the Cantonese say, 背脊向天,都可以食.

Cambodian Street Food on the LES?

According to Wednesday’s New York Times, Cambodian street food is hitting the Lower East Side:

KAMPUCHEA NOODLE BAR
In the 1970’s and ’80’s, Cambodia was known as Kampuchea. Ratha Chau, a native of that country, who was wine director and manager of Fleur de Sel, will feature street food from Southeast Asia at this Lower East Side spot. (October) 78-84 Rivington Street (Allen Street).

Unless JetstarAsia opens up the lucrative Pochentong-JFK route, I’ll be accepting guest reviews. Cheers to NYT for the geography lesson and Jinja for the tip.

Coates in Cambodia

Gourmet mag correspondent and ex-Cambodia Daily journo Karen Coates is currently in Kep collating communiqué for a new edition of Fodor’s, while I’m still in Phnom Penh, honing my alliteration skills for no particular travel guide. So far highlights from her blog include Starfish Bakery and Café in Sihanoukville, pizza at Veiyo Tonle in Phnom Penh , and delivering some charred justice to the beast that defeated Steve Irwin in Kep. Revenge is a dish best served barbecued.

While I’m serving up some hot link lovin’, cheers to Chez Pim and RealThai for featuring me on “Blog Day”.

Trendspotting: Steamed Corn

Corn at Russian Market

Two new trends spotted this wet season in Phnom Penh: firstly, the practice of flying cheap fluorescent kites near the Independence Monument, sold by cyclo-borne vendors. Secondly, there seems to be an increase in the number of steamed corn carts. I’m positive that these two trends are interrelated, possibly some sort of kite/kernel dumping scam. I’m also sure that the kites will be banned when Hun Sen gets tired of people crashing them into the roof of his nearby villa. Most corn sellers around the Russian Market serve the steamed corn sans-topping but a daring few also seem to be market testing chilli sauce and the classic grey onion sauce.