Amok-ing Around in Siem Reap

Living for two months (let alone a year) without a kitchen has left Jeremy and I with no other option but to eat out every day for every meal. As glamorous as it sounds, it can actually be quite tricky. Eating out can be expensive, it can be slow, it can be unhealthy (or at least a bit more calorie-heavy than home cooking), and in a city of endless restaurants to sample it can turn into a game of hit or miss.

Jeremy and I have had somewhat different philosophies when it comes to choosing a restaurant. Jeremy looks at price and the kindness of the waitstaff. I look at the kitchen (an open kitchen is a good sign in my opinion) and the atmosphere – in this heat, I am also heavily swayed by the presence of high-speed fans. Jeremy likes to repeatedly visit the same restaurant once he knows it’s good, whereas I like to constantly try new restaurants.

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After two months of dining out in the same city, I have to give Jeremy credit for his strategy of finding a good restaurant and sticking with it. For some fabulous Fish Amok – a traditional Khmer dish served in a coconut shell – we’d go to Sugar Palm restaurant. When we were in the mood for Indian, we’d head to the undiscovered New Delhi restaurant, for the best naan bread in town. After a long, hot, sweaty morning at work, we’d cycle back to Hak’s House for a serving of rice, egg, meat, pickled vegetables and soup (overall the best meal) at one of the local restaurant across from Build Bright University. For some traditional and delicious Khmer dumplings, we were never disappointed by either location of Khmer Kitchen. And when we wanted something tasty, cheap and quick, the area around the Old Market was always offering sizzling scallion-pancake soup, steamed pork buns, or fresh spring rolls. And lastly, when we needed a good cocktail (which is very hard to find in Cambodia), the wine and tapas bar, Picasso, turned out to be a goldmine.

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By the time we were nearly ready to leave Siem Reap, we had sampled so much Khmer cooking that we decided to learn a bit of it ourselves. Although I wouldn’t rave about the cooking experience offered by Le Tigre de Papier Cooking Class, we did pick up a few tricks about how to make curry paste from scratch and make spring rolls with rice paper.

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Overall, I’d say the dining experience in Siem Reap is good – but not exceptional. Khmer food can be delicious, but also strange at times. Their food isn’t spicy like Thai, and they love odd texture combinations, like sticky rice covered in brightly colored jellies, some gooey bean paste, shaved ice, topped with condensed milk (a must try street food). I never could get used to munching on salted crickets, but I would happily eat anything that came with Kampot Pepper. In those regards, Cambodian food definitely kept me interested and coming back for more.

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Try to cook Khmer at home!

Here are some basic recipes of our favorite dishes learned from our cooking class. Tip: Find an Asian market near you to pick up the “unusual” ingredients.

Fish Amok (single serving)

Ingredients:
– Ngor leaf or Chinese broccoli leaf …………….. 2 pcs cut into thin strips
– Oyster Mushrooms …………….. 100g cut into thin strips
– White Onion …………….. ¼ onion sliced
– Amok paste …………….. 2 tablespoons
– Fish …………….. 200g finely sliced
– Swiss chard leaf …………….. 3 tablespoons sliced
– Coconut milk …………….. 4 tablespoons
– Sugar …………….. 1 teaspoon
– Salt …………….. a pinch
– Fish sauce …………….. 1 teaspoon

Amok Paste: (blended together until smooth)
– Lemongrass …………….. 1cut thin
– Turmeric …………….. 1 cut thin
– Fresh Ginger …………….. 2 cut thin
– Shallot …………….. 1 pcs
– Garlic …………….. 2 pcs

How to cook:
Heat the coconut milk in a pan and put amok paste, sugar, and fish sauce. Fry until brown. Add fish and mushroom, onion, ngor leave, 1 ladle of coconut milk, ½ spoon of chicken stock powder, 1 spoon of fish sauce. Cook until it turns into a thick consistency. Serve with white rice.

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Khmer Chicken Curry (single serving)

Ingredients:
– Chicken breast ………… 100g clean and cut into pieces
– Khmer curry paste …………….. 3 tablespoons
– Sugar …………….. ½ tablespoon
– Coconut milk …………….. 5 tablespoons
– Carrot …………….. ½ carrot peeled and cut into large chunks
– Sweet potato ………… ½ potato peeled and cut into large chunks
– White Onion …………….. ½ onion cut into large chunks
– Long bean (similar to green bean) …………….. cut into short pieces
– Salt …………….. a pinch
– Dried Star Anis …………….. 4 cloves
– Cinnamon …………….. 1 stick

Curry paste ingredients: (blended together until smooth)
– Galangal …………….. 1 piece peeled and sliced
– Turmeric root …………….. 2pcs peeled and sliced
– Garlic …………….. 2pcs finely chopped
– Lemon grass …………….. 1pcs sliced thin
– Shallot …………….. 4pcs peeled and chopped
– kaffir lime leave …………….. 2pcs sliced thin

How to cook:
Heat the coconut milk in a pan. Add khmer curry paste, sugar, spices, sweet potato, carrot, onion, green bean and cook for 10 minutes. Then put chicken and a little bit water to moisten the ingredients and simmer for 10-20 minutes or until the vegetable and chicken are well done. Serve with white rice.

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Mango Salad (single serving)

Ingredients:
– Green (unripe) mango …………….. 1 mango peeled and grated
– Carrot …………….. 1 large carrot peeled and grated
– Sweet Basil …………….. 20g
– Crushed Roasted peanuts …………….. 1 spoonful
– Asian coriander …………….. 3 pcs
– Chili coriander dip (dressing) …………….. 3 tablespoons

Chili Coriander Dressing:
– Shallot …………….. 1 chopped
– Garlic …………….. 2 chopped
– Cilendral root …………….. 1 chopped
– Sweet chili …………….. ½ chopped
– Lime juice …………….. 1 lime
– Water …………….. 1 ladle
– Chicken stock powder …………….. 1 spoonful
– Sugar …………….. 1 spoonful

How to cook:
Dressing – Mash garlic, shallot, sweet chili, cilendral root, lime juice in mortar and pestle until it turns to paste.. In separate pan, simmer water, sugar and chicken stock powder. Add paste and cook for 2 minutes.
Salad – Grate green mango and carrot into thin strips. Mix in sweet basil and Asian coriander, then put on to a plate. Add dressing and sprinkle crushed peanuts on top. Serve room temperature.

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