Carl Parkes’ new contrarian pants

This post is probably gonna piss off a few people, and make other people doubt my sanity or street cred, but street food in Asia is almost uniformly bad. I’ve eaten from food stalls all across Asia, and most of the fare was pure crap. Boiled fishballs in water with seacress is not food – it’s fish food for goats.

But that’s what is usually served from food stalls in Bangkok, Pattaya, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, Delhi, Varanasi, and Trivandrum. I’ve eaten street food in all those places, and mostly it has been less than garbage. Unless you have absolutely no taste or distinguishation in food, skip the street foodstalls and spend a little extra money and dine in a cafe where the chef actually knows how to cook.

Carl Parkes, Moon Guide author and acerbic critic of dire travel writing, has returned from his brief holiday wearing a new pair of contrarian pants. It’s an easy target to put the boot into every Asian street food vendor because they can’t fight back when you are out of reach of their razor-sharp cleavers, boiling oil and botulism toxin. The only expectation I have from a full meal that cost me less than 50 cents is that it will not permanently incapacitate me. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but you can make a non-lethal and tasty soup and possibly a selection from the Taco Bell menu. With this exceedingly low expectation as a starting point, I’ll occasionally discover something that befits any man or woman of distinguishation. At this stage, I’m not going to censure Carl for losing his marbles, street cred or dictionary because my personal theory is that he’s pitching for a job at an upmarket travel magazine and needs to offer them a low-budget food sacrifice as penance to the Gods of Luxury.

13 thoughts on “Carl Parkes’ new contrarian pants”

  1. From my own experience in the restaurant business in Cambodia (and i guess almost every where else in Southern Asia) the only factor that make the food dangerous in Cambodia is…

    … Chillers and Freezers!!!

    It’s probably only a matter of time before every things get under control, but for the moment most of staff doesn’t have any “chilling culture”. I actually know a few chefs (trained in 5 stars international hotels, like Sofitel (oups sorry)) who are not afraid to freezing, defreezing and refreezing. A few years ago FCC in Siem Reap was known for being strongly laxative.

    Carl Parke should have a think at that. Anyway it’s always courageous to go again the average stream.

  2. One of the other (and possibly only) factor that scares me food-wise is the practice of butchering and eating dead or dying animals. Practically every farmer knows it is a very bad idea, but when you hang twenty chickens on your Daelim’s handlebars and 5 die on the way to market anyway, who is going to notice if you add a few of the sneezing ones as well?

    The other thing that is a smaller concern is the insane use of insecticides: I’ve heard horror stories of farmers spraying every time that they see any insect and then refreshing their vegies by giving them a spray on the way to market. Here’s a BBC news bit about it:

  3. Yeah yeah yeah

    I don’t know how it works down in Australia but the way we tread cattle and poultry in my country isn’t much better. Transgenic food, intense farming, animal flour, we carry everything across Europe on big trucks that get stuck during summer… So for chicken in Cambodia it is bad, but i think it is not only here.
    I’ve been to the slaughter house on night in Siem Reap at 3 am and i can assure you that it is not worst than in France. Cows are actually killed with more care and tenderness.
    Regarding eating dead animals note that Cambodians only veal or baby pig when they die but never kill them for that. And they are quiet popular meat in the country side. The issue is more to buy a big piece of beef tenderloin at the local market at 4.30 pm and eat it rare at home. But this is something Cambodians would never do.

    Regarding pesticide on vegetables (that is also quiet a common practice in my country, ever after harvest, like on citrus and apples) I would think this isn’t a general practice. Since I’m here I heard so many things about Cambodian agricultural practices. It’s a little bit like all the 2-minutes-killing snakes that live in every single banana trees around the country. Every expat knows and likes to talk about them, but nobody is able so say if someone died of that in their neighborhood. Some kind of “Expat legend”…

    What is sure is that being poor and uneducated doesn’t necessarily means being dirty and irresponsible. Please leave that kind of though to Elisabeth Briel from Phnom Penh (the comment on Carl Parkes’ new contrarian pantsand.) If she or Carl Parkes isn’t able to find good street foods, then they having a shitty life.

    By the way there is a really cool place in Siem Reap, in front of Abacus restaurant that serves palm sugar simmered whole pork shank with rice up to 3 am (or maybe I was drunk, but it seems great anyway.)

  4. I’m not denying the use of pesticide in Cambodia. I’m just saying why local farmer couldn’t do it when companies like Delmonte or Chiquita enjoy it so much in South America.

  5. After seeing how well the locals generally respect their cattle, I’ve got no doubt that the process would be humane. There is a lot of value in slaughtering cattle near where they live instead of trucking them around the country.

    I certainly wouldn’t think that insane pesticide overuse or bringing dodgy animals to market is widespread. I’m hardly an expert on these things. It doesn’t stop me from buying practically all of my food from the local markets, and if it was a widespread problem, I couldn’t afford to shop anywhere else.

    I’ve got a tub of fresh palm sugar at home, and when I get there this evening I might write “for pork simmering only” on the label. Sounds delicious.

  6. What a load of shit….. just like all French people fall into this category

    and all Australians are Fosters swilling drop bears

    Fosters swilling drop bear

    naturally all Asian street food is shit and lacks variety because of access to ingredients ( ).

    What is the obsession with authentic food anyway?

    I know when I am here all I am hankering for is some authentic Kookaburra wings
    ( ).

    Apologies for all the links

    Anyway must get back to the 81 channels of fine cable TV @ a very reasonable $5 a month.

  7. Gutbomb, I’ll just say 3 things:

    Most people in the world believe that New Zealand is the name of a place in Lord of The Ring

    Your prime minister looks like a drag queen.

    Mururoa obviously weren’t far enough. Check you thyroid once in a wild.

    Kiora Bro

  8. Lets head to ‘Frisco’ for a lynching

    Those that want to join the posse meet in front of Apsara Angkor hotel or was that Angkor Apsara hotel anyway I’ll be they guy on the tricked out Daelim

  9. Dear Phil

    Myself and Gutbomb (possibly) are very bored at the moment and it’s been almost 48 hours you didn’t post anything new. Please understand that it is low season for some of your readers and since Internet is our only window on this miserable world so please post something now.

    Pretty please, i’ll wash my hand.

    Thank you

  10. I posted once before, but it seems I need to repeat.

    “I like your blog on street food in Cambodia. But as a Khmer, I have one request. I do not want to see the Angkor Wat upside down as in your banner. It isn’t a good sign. I’m sure you’re in Cambodia long enough to understand how sensitive Khmer people can be when it comes to Angkor Wat and other national heritages. I request that you adjust or change the banner. Regards!”

  11. Vireak – I think I responded earlier as well.

    Jo, GB – Phnomenon was closed for the Labor Day weekend because nothing else was.

  12. It was not Labour Day; it was the pagan festival of Walpurgis Night, (or Beltane if your of Celtic decent) a joyous celebration of life, fertility, and birth – that is right folks, it is all about the cock!

    Damn commies, I want my pagan rituals back.

    I want morris dancing, a May Queen and a Green Man – Pagan orgies and bacchanals.

    Is that too much to ask ?

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