Luxe does Cambodia (and Laos)

Suddenly unable to differentiate between two entire nations and a single city, Luxe City Guides have just released a guide concatenating Cambodia and Laos. The official guide of the Wallpaper* set has obviously decided that these two nations do not have enough opulence to fill their requisite two A4 sides of $9 folding guidebook.

I was hoping to pitch for Luxe’s Phnom Penh next time I was out of work, but it looks like I’ve missed that boat full of luxury cash.

See: Luxe City Guides at Amazon.

Instant karko’s gonna get you

Samla Karko

It is sometimes amusing to uphold the myth that I’m leading a fantastically unattainable food lifestyle: up at the crack of dawn to scour Cambodia’s markets for the rarest ingredients, plotting my meals in advance. But it is a myth. I hate the morning and when I’m feeling lazy, Cambodia’s improving supermarkets fill the gap. Lucky for me, Lucky Supermarket has recently introduced packaged fresh ingredient kits for Cambodia’s favourite foods: a few offal and sour soups, tom yam, stuffed bitter melon, and something that I rarely cook myself, samlor karko.

Samlor karko (literally, “stirring soup”) is made in infinite variations depending on the availability of ingredients. It ranges from watery broth to a chunky stew, but the core components are prahok (fermented fish paste); a mix of Cambodia’s more common vegetables: pumpkin, green papaya, green jackfruit, green banana, snake beans, eggplant; a lemongrass heavy spice paste (kroueng); and some random, esoteric leaves that I can’t regularly identify. These things need some serious stirring. I’ve seen versions with every meat imaginable, but tend to prefer pork or chicken.

Samla Karko

On disengaging the vegies from the cling wrap and polystyrene tray, the Lucky kit seemed a little short on pumpkin and green jackfruit for my liking. No green banana, for which I don’t care; no eggplant. The leafy greenery is mrum leaf (Moringa oleifera) , and the baggies contain kroueng and ground roasted rice.

To make from scratch, if you’re slightly less lazy:

250 grams of pork ribs
1 tbsp prahok
500 grams of vegetables – any mix of green papaya, green banana, green jackfruit sliced thinly; small eggplant or pea eggplant, pumpkin in chunks; snake beans cut into short lengths.
2 small chillies, chopped
6 cups of water

30 grams of lemongrass leaf, 10 grams of lemongrass stem
1 tbsp of krachai
a small piece of fresh turmeric
4 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 tbsp of oil
2 tbsp of ground roasted rice
2 tbsp of palm sugar
2 tbsp of fish sauce
salt to taste

1 cup mrum leaf (Moringa oleifera)

Make the kroueng:

Slice the lemongrass leaf very finely, roughly cut the rhizome, turmeric and garlic, then pound with a mortar and pestle to a paste.

Get your soup on:

Cut the pork ribs into bite-size chunks with a cleaver (or get your butcher to do it for you).

Fry the kroueng and prahok in oil until the oil turns yellowish-green. Add the ribs and brown quietly, taking care not to burn the kroueng.

Add a cup of water, palm sugar, vegetables, and chillies, stirring intermittently for about 15 minutes. Stir in the ground roasted rice powder.

Add the other 5 cups of water, bring to a solid boil. Give the vegies a poke to see if they’re done. Add fish sauce, salt to taste. Add more sugar if necessary.

Add mrum leaf and remove from heat. Serve immediately.

For a vegie version (samla karko sap): Omit anything flavoursome, replace with vegetable-based substitute. Sorry, I meant to say “replace meats with firm tofu or textured vegetable protein, and fish sauce with vege-substitute fish sauce”.

Lucky Supermarket Samla Karko kit (labelled “karkou”): 1000 riel ($US0.25) with about a dollar worth of pre-cut pork ribs.

Cheers to Austin for pointing out the Souper Challenge Blog Event

Cambodian Ministry of Tourism welcomes food tourists

Tourist season seems to be hotting up in Phnom Penh, or at least, more people seem to be wearing daypacks and standing on street corners, ineffectively using their Lonely Planet to swat at the emergent swarm of informal motorcycle-taxi drivers. The Cambodian Ministry of Tourism, realising that Cambodian food may attract tourists rather than repel them has added a few recipes to their website. From their fish amok instructions:

  • Break the coconut fruit, squeeze the nut to get its milk by making the phase-one milk and phase-two milk
  • Cut the ripe bell pepper into two
  • Pour half of the phase-one coconut milk into a frying pan to cook until it turns a litter brown
  • Then, put into the pan the spices and the mash mixture, and stir it up
  • Add the phase-two milk and turn off the cooking gas after the solution becomes cooked and dry enough

In this instance, a Cambodian ministry’s heart is in the right place, but their translator’s mind isn’t.

See: Ministry of Tourism’s Cambodian Recipes

Instant karmic penance

Water Festival

For brutally slagging off Water Festival, I received a brutal cold which disabled my palate for the last week. The upside was that I did spend some time in Phnom Penh for the Water Festival atoning for my sardonicism and despite the excess of public relievers about town, it was amusing. The locals should be proud for running a festival that brings an overwhelming number of people into Phnom Penh with so little violence, and as far as I know, only one shooting that was the direct result of public urination. The crowd that strolled the length of Sisowath Quay on Phnom Penh’s riverfront (above) remained in a jovial mood throughout.

Water Festival

Ministry of Tourism barge illuminates the crowd.

Steamed bun vendor at water festival

Inanimate num pao (steamed pork bun) vendor plies his wares to an inattentive crowd.

Water Festival to set new public urination record

Apart from the decorative façade that is added to Phnom Penh over the festival, Water Festival (Bon Um Tuk, next week) is the worst time of the year to be in Cambodia’s capital. If “attempting to set a new world record for mass public urination” is your idea of a great festive atmosphere then this end of rainy season party is for you. About a million Cambodians from the rural provinces come to Phnom Penh for Water Festival to piss in the streets and act generally bewildered. There are guest appearances by the King; dragon boat racing and the consequential drownings; and fireworks to provide the crowds with both entertainment and further bewilderment. Food-wise, vendors flock to riverfront to hawk their wares, if you’re willing to battle the swarming masses to find them.

My pre-festival highlight this year has been the first capture of Kampuchea Krom terrorist suspects whose arrests seem about as valid as an increasingly oligarchic government that installed itself in a coup boasting its respect for democracy and the rule of law*.

I’m not going to have any other festival coverage because I’ll be out of town, eating my body weight in naem. No updates for a week or so until I roll back into Phnom Penh.
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