You grow it, pick it, then hull it. Then you cook it in every manner imaginable. That amounts to my entire knowledge of rice production.
For a foodstuff that is central to Cambodian life and covers 90% of the total agricultural area, Phnomenon contains of very little rice information apart from the culinary end, mostly because I tend not to like stepping onto the toes of the hundreds of agriculture experts whom have succeeded in pulling Cambodia out of starvation. Keep up the good work and that donor cash flowing. There are other bloggers out there much more qualified to entertain you with tales of Cambodian agriculture.
As for the purely mechanical side of rice production, my guess is that Cambodia lacks milling capacity and unprocessed rice floods across the border into Vietnam. Otherwise, milling is by any means at the farmerâ€™s disposal. Here is one method: hand-milling.
Hull the rice in one of these.
I have the weird effect that when I ask if I can photograph someone in Khmer, they tend to say yes, then laugh at me, partly out of embarassment, partly because no one seems to know why on earth I’d be interested.
As for the results: much poorer than you’d get out of a commercial rice mill. It’s probably trendier for me to say that artisan-produced, hand-pounded rice is fantastic but it’s not. It is wildly inconsistent and contains far more broken rice; still tasting like the rice bran rather than something more fragrant.
There are two imperative dishes to be eaten in Kampot; the first, pepper crab from Ta Ouv Restaurant just near the new bridge and overhanging the river. It is almost identical to the last time that I ate there. It is altogether possible that I ate crab from the exact same plate as last time. The crab is smaller but the green pepper as eucalyptus-fragrant as it was in my rose-tinted memories. The river smells as ripe as a summer ham.
The second is a cut of ribs that is possibly illegal in any other part of the civilised world. Rusty Keyhole on the riverfront in Kampot town procures a cut of pork that combines rib with fillet; meat sticky with barbecue sauce and cooked until it can be eaten with a spoon. The full plate is a ludicrous amount of pork, the type of excess that should not be undertaken lightly. The sign behind the bar warns against missionaries visiting, lest they experience pork induced apostasy.
It’s something of a food blogger invasion in Cambodia at present; more than one of us in the same country is a trend. Ex-expat and frequent revisitor Karen Coates is touring the countryside. Her recent grim observation on what makes Cambodian tuk trei that little bit different:
We recently visited a small fish-sauce operation near Battambang, and our tuk-tuk driver said he used to work for a similar factory.
â€œI know itâ€™s not good. Sometimes the workers piss into the vats. The men, sometimes theyâ€™re lazy. They donâ€™t go to the toilets.â€
One of my few regrets now that I’m back in Cambodia is that previously, I didn’t photograph enough architecture. I knew that the buildings that comprise New Khmer architecture were being razed to the ground with complete abandon, and even if I was in no strong position to halt it, at the very least, I could have recorded it.
Above is the old Kampot Market, dead in the centre of the Kampot township. It has been abandoned for a more sprawling and shambolic market near the new bridge. The terms of its abandonment and risk of demolition are unknown to me.
Inside, the market is now used as a makeshift volleyball court. A few kids sit around playing cards.
A beer named after sheep, at least in a homonymical sense.
Thereâ€™s a tuning fork on the can which is all that Iâ€™m guessing will differentiate this â€œspecial lagerâ€ from any other Asian lager. As with most of the less trustworthy beers, no point of origin is specified on the can. Thong Imex, the purported brewer, could be from anywhere; in fact the can mentions that they only supervise the brewing of this beer. No nation or specific company is responsible for what is to come.
Thong Imex Import Export says: “Made from 100% Premium malt Imported from Germany and Australia, YOU Beer has the wonderful flavor which is ready for you to celebrate with your friends anytime, anywhere. Manufactured using the most modern lines in the ASEAN. Imported and Installed by Krones and Huppman, the world famous brewing company.”
I say: Like most pan-ASEAN lagers, this one is straw-colored and has a perfunctory soapy head but unlike other beers from the ASEAN, this one has some chemical bitterness with a metallic, copper-y aftertaste. Hopefully that metal hasnâ€™t come from the world famous brewing company, Krones and Huppman, or their modern but poorly maintained lines. The aroma is dominated by boiled cabbage and the taste of cardboard. I imagine this is what the Ukraine smells like in its most productive year.
Location: 330ml can. Found at Lucky Supermarket, Phnom Penh. Further distribution unknown.
It’s for a short time but it feels physically wrong to not be writing here when I’m physically in Cambodia. My immediate impression since I last left: not much has changed. There is now an ATM located within 25 metres of the last ATM, a few more crimes against architecture have been built and communities evicted, and the government continues to find new ways to define itself as venal. I’ve already found a new beer. More to come.