Well, I have been absent for a couple of weeks due to a two-week holiday in Cambodia. And what an amazing place it was. Temples? Check. Friendly smiling locals? Check. Cocktails on the beach? Check. Deep fried tarantulas? Che –
Wait – what?
Yes indeedy. The Cambodian people, or Khmer, have a taste for some funky stuff. They do, of course, have some absolutely fantastic recipes involving such mundane ingredients as pork and beef, but I’ll get to that.
There’s the spiders…. these suckers are about as big as a standard drink coaster (Apparently you have to remove their fangs before cooking.)
Then there’s the crickets. Deep fried, these are a very popular snack – particularly at bus stops, where I’d see young kids getting back on the bus with a little bag ‘o crickets to munch on the way. I saw so many deep fried crickets it was a wonder there were any left in the country.
Barbecued sparrows, anyone? You wouldn’t think there’d be much meat on these, but there you go.
And then there’s the frogs. I’ll admit I didn’t ask too many questions about how the preparation, but I was told that frogs have more meat than toads – ‘more muscle in the thighs’ were the exact words.
I’m afraid I wasn’t quite adventurous enough to try any of these treats, no matter how hard our tour leader tried to convince me. Stir-fried morning glory* I will eat. Insects I will not.
The weird bits aside, Cambodia can boast some delicious dishes, with catchy names like ‘Lok Lak’ and ‘Khmer Amok’. The amok was easily my favourite; a light, tasty curry, traditionally made with freshwater fish, served in a nifty little bowl made of banana leaf (with rice on the side, of course!). Unfortunately, I was really hungry that night, and forgot to take a picture.
Khmer cookbooks were hard to come by, but I was lucky enough to find a one at the “Friends & Stuff” shop. Friends International is an organisation working to educate young Cambodian people, keeping them off the street and giving them skills to build a career. Not only that, but the Friends restaurant has also researched and revived many traditional Khmer recipes, almost lost due to the Khmer Rouge.
Happily, my new cookbook – “From Spiders to Water Lilies: Creative Cambodian Cooking with Friends” – includes a recipe for traditional Khmer Amok which I am looking forward to trying. There’s also a recipe for Crispy Tarantulas, which I’m not.
So, hopefully, (pending availability of the right spices!) in blogs to come there will be some forays into Cambodian cooking!
* Put your hand up if you snickered at ‘morning glory’! I sure did. It’s a vegetable, water-grown, similar in shape and size to choy sum. Luckily we didn’t have to explain the hilarious significance of the name to our tour guide; some other tourist had already done so (with great delight, I’m sure). And, when we first encountered morning glory at a market, I wasn’t the one to comment ‘hm, thought it would be bigger…’