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...]

Khmer foods I love: Sa-om pong tia (acacia leaf duck egg omelet)

I should've put a dollar bill behind the bunch to show scale; it is small and only about the length of a large adult hand (this photo is zoomed in to show the fronds of this fern-like herb). It's common hereabouts, has a mildly bitter taste and a pungent sulfury aroma. I've seen it most commonly chopped off the stems and mixed into duck egg omelets. It's one of my kids' favorite fast foods. In English it's called acacia leaf, and in Khmer it's sa-om. It's eaten with rice and some sweet chili sauce, or as part of an array of dishes that usually includes soups. I wonder what else people use this herb in. … [Read more...]

Street stall dining in Battambang

Battambang is a culinary destination. There are varieties of fruits and vegetables native to this region that don't grow as well anywhere else. And the local preparation of many condiments and foods have a distinct character to them. Every night on the riverside, food vendors set up shop. On the far end of (further from the market than the tokalok, or fruit shake, stalls) is a routine stop whenever my colleagues and I are in town. I think two or three vendors cook the same thing but my colleagues prefer the family at the end; the woman in the picture below is the main cook and everyone else helps with other parts of the operation.  Grilled in banana leaves and eaten with rice, sangvaec* is a processed fish product made over the course of … [Read more...]