The Real Food of Cambodia

All kinds of dried fish

While in Saigon, I saw an advertisement at the post office for vespa tours. I wanted to experience riding a scooter especially one I did not have to drive as traffic is crazy (see former post: traffic in Ho Chi Mihn City). We stumbled across this advertisement too late because we were set to ride the train that evening, but in small print it mentioned they have a few tours in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Exactly where we would be in a little over a week. So, taking advantage of the WiFi at one of our hotels in Vietnam I looked at the website. What I saw was just what I wanted, an after dark foodie vespa tour that would expose us to food westerners don’t eat. After inquiring with our newly joined travel partner Mr. G we were in.

This tour at the outset was somewhat terrifying. I knew going into it that there were bugs involved among other street food delights. Our vespa drivers arrived at our hotel promptly at 6pm. After choosing the yellow one to match my purple UW jacket, off we went to meet our guide and the rest of our group.

We met the other two joining us that night, sisters from Holland on holiday (it sounds more fun than vacation, dosen’t it?). After drinks and a few snacks we embarked on the first stop of our gastronomic adventure. In the nearby market Akim, our guide, showed us all the different spices that we would be tasting in the upcoming hours. Some familiar and some not, like the ants! I have to admit at first smell they smelled amazing and I was trying to have an open mind.

Akim our guide to Cambodian delicacies

It was a few stalls over where there was all kinds of dried fish and meats. Akim purchased some dried beef she said would be a part of our meal later and pulled out a piece of dried smoked fish for each of us to try. Essentially, fish jerky.

Next, our vespa drivers were magically waiting for us outside this market to take us to the spirit temple. The story as I understand it is that these two Buddhist statutes were in the household of some military leader and supposedly gave him luck until well they didn’t and they were found in a nearby lake. This temple was erected for the statutes and people especially at the end of the month come and pray to them. Interesting look at some of the religious beliefs of the people.

On the move yet again, we were whisked away to a non-touristy market where there was a street stall grill. We sat next to the river on straw mats under a plastic tent to keep us dry as it was lightly raining. We were instructed to wash our hands in lime water because our hands were the utensils and we were given banana leaves as plates. Grilled meats were presented. First thing to try stuffed frog. Actually delicious. I did not care for the chicken stomach too much, but tried it anyway. Besides, everything tastes okay when you have a cold beer to wash it down.

The grill masters
Our Table and Plates

While there were heard Akim’s amazing life story. It you ever go you need to ask her about it it’s inspirational and unbelievable.

After tasting all the grilled items we left on foot to see more of this market. We were the only tourists to be found on the street, which made the experience even better. Stopping at a fruit stand we got to try all the fruits we were and were not familiar with. Growing up with Asian family and friends helped me here, as most of the fruits were familiar, except the snake fruit. It literally looks scaly like a reptile, but it did not taste too bad.

Snake Fruit

The next stop in this market was the one we were all trying to forget… the insects. Apparently Cambodian’s believe that bugs are a very clean source of protein because they come from the ground. Then the tasting began crickets, worms, beetles, and barbequed tarantula. I figure if there is a natural disaster and worse comes to worse I am now prepared. Even Mr. G the unwilling participant, tried almost everything. When we went to got back on our vespas, I asked my driver if he liked bugs, he told me he did not eat them!

Mr. G saving some cricket for Later

Even though the hours were passing by (it is advertised as 5 hours long) it was so much fun. We next headed to a restaurant were there was fried duck tongues, stir fried seafood with basil, and stir fried beef with ants. At this point in the tour, I think Akim had convinced you to try almost anything! There was live entertainment in the background here as we tasted and drank more beer. Akim explained the history of this neighborhood and explained the nature of the red light district.

Last stop was a type of rice wine distillery and dessert. We got to taste every flavor (around 8 or so) and eat lots of sweet sticky rice, coconut, sweet bean, etc… My favorite was the steamed pumpkin cake, yum!

Flavored Rice Wines and dessert

The value and personal interest in this tour was unbelievably worth it. It definitely will be one of my favorite memories in Cambodia! Thank you Akim and family for sharing your story and culture with us😆

Sayonara for now… D&M

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