Khmer cuisine: Koh saek chrook k’nao (Pork stew with jackfruit)

Koh saek chrook is usually a plain beef stew (of garlic, onions, soy sauce, fish sauce and small amounts of tubers) when our nanny Sopheap makes it for us. This variation below is with jackfruit, which lends a sweetness so that there's no need to add sugar. (With growing affluence and its associated sweet tooth, sugar is increasingly added to Khmer dishes like this one.) Tender shreds of meat are what's left after the yellow fruit is taken out and the tougher rind and tendrils discarded. The seeds of jackfruit are edible when boiled. It has a hard shell that's easily cracked and removed. They can be tossed into the dish as well. Sopheap leaves this shell on, but if I were to cook it myself I'd take them off. First, garlic is … [Read more...]

Insect cuisine: Ongkrong saek koo (Beef stir fry with red tree ant larvae)

The first time I had this dish was in Kampot, at a small stall by the side of a building away from the busy center of town. I loved it! Then one night I sat underneath a particularly bright light source and saw all the ants in my meal. After my initial shock, I managed to have a civil conversation with my Khmer colleagues about the food they had me eating. These ants lend a tangy taste to dishes, especially when paired with meats in a stir fry. I did end up finishing my meal that night, getting over it very quickly. All manner of insects make it onto the menu in Cambodia, so psychologically-speaking it wasn't the worst thing I've ever eaten, and besides it was rather good. There are several names for this ant -- Fire ants, Red tree ants, … [Read more...]

Quick eats in Phnom Penh: Bánh hỏi for lunch

This shop on busy Sihanouk Blvd has been serving fantastic bánh hỏi for years! They serve a set menu that includes sandwiches and meat skewers. It's a picture menu, and easy to point to one of the two big platters of meats and vegetables. Before the food arrives, a small pan of water and slices of lemon is brought to the table for washing hands. Bánh hỏi refers to the rice vermicelli noodle woven into a fine mesh, which looks like gauze. It's paired with foods of different textures and richness - starchy green bananas, sweet pineapples, crunchy cucumbers, meats and fats - all to be wrapped into a fresh spring roll. These fillings are laid out on several platters. One of these platters contains skewered pork meat sliced very thin and … [Read more...]

Khmer food: Svay bok Trai cha-aa

(Smashed grilled fish) I'm always discovering new Khmer dishes I haven't tried yet. My colleague brought some of this the other day for her lunch. The photo doesn't capture it well, but it's a very tasty dish (for those not turned off by pungency, that is)! It's made of fish (grilled river catfish was used here), smashed in a mortar and pestle with grated green mango and spices. I asked Sopheap to make it and watched. Into the mortar with the mango went chopped red and white onion, a little garlic, salt, peanuts, some fish sauce and herbs that they call chee (gee?), for which I don't know the English names. (I'll add to this post when I find out.) Similar to it is the more famous green papaya/mango salad. This salad has river crab, … [Read more...]

Jiminy crickets and arachnid cuisine

These crunchy crickets the Khmers are so wild about are about 2.5inches long, the females huge with eggs at the end of rainy season. Crickets owe their place in the culinary landscape to the art of survival during the starvation period of the Khmer Rouge era.Today this delicacy has surged in popularity, creating a robust trade with neighboring countries, the heart of which is in Kampong Thom, a requisite stop between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where they particularly thrive. At night fields light up with the bug-catching contraptions: a flourescent bulb to attract them is hung about 2m off the ground on a bamboo frame 2m wide, with sheets of plastic to catch them mid-flight, and a trough of water below for them to drop into and drown. A … [Read more...]