Culture, Colour and Cambodian Cooking

BBC Two’s TV chef Rick Stein started his Far Eastern Odyssey in Cambodia where he showcased a range of Cambodian foods and highlighted a true picture of Khmer cooking delights. No surprise he started off with fish amok served in banana leaves. It’s an easy dish to make providing you have the right ingredients white fish (I don’t think it really matters which one), fish sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, coconut milk, lemon grass, nhor leaves, galangal, turmeric, garlic, shallots and, of course, chillies! Although not really a spicy dish, it’s a creamy mix which mixed altogether and steamed tastes fantastic.

The programme recommended mixing the sauce first, then to add the fish and bind together with a couple of eggs. I first learnt to cook fish amok at cooking classes in Sihanoukville.

Another favourite of mine highlighted in the show was beef Lok Lak complete with a fired egg on top, served with the all important pepper and lime sauce. Mix some pepper and salt with freshly squeezed limes to get a unique sour tasting sauce.

The programme transported us from our sofas to Siem Reap via Kampot, Kep and Rabbit Island, taking point to note the distinct intense flavours of Kampot Pepper served perfectly with steak or fresh crab from Kep.

Rick Stein then took the viewers across the mighty Tonle Sap lake and introduced us to the locals living in floating villages and how they salt, smoke and dry fish as a means of preservation. The best way to try it is on the lake itself and, perhaps, by taking a sunset cruise on the Tara River Boat.

From fish to fruit, from lake to land our next stop was the colourful and vibrant Psar Leu where Joannes Riviere, previous executive chef of Hotel de la Paix and advisor for Sala Bai Hotel and Restaurant School showed us around the fragrant fruit stalls and bakeries.

The bustling markets are a must do in any Cambodian town. Siem Reap’s Old Market is no exception and is included in the Cambodian cooking classes at The Paper Tiger as an introduction to Cambodian food. Not only do you get to eat your delights after the lesson, but a sum of profits are given over to Sala Bai who also featured in Rick Steins broadcast.

Sala Bai, literally translated to ‘the school of rice’, is a hotel school with a difference. They have social workers who spend more than six months interviewing and selecting potential students. Their criteria for selection is not only poverty, they also accept young girls who, without an education, could end up in poorly paid or less wholesome jobs.

Sala Bai welcomes guests to enjoy their hospitality. Whether staying the night or enjoying lunch, guests can contribute to the students learning experience. A practical lesson with real life travellers is more rewarding and challenging than serving other students. It is also an opportunity for visitors to Siem Reap to make a difference, in a small way, as profits generated go back into improving the schools or into scholarship funds.

If you did watch it and was inspired the programme, then why not come and visit Siem Reap yourself?


One Response to “Culture, Colour and Cambodian Cooking”

  • Nathan Says:

    If you watched Rick Stein and thinking about going to Cambodia, DO IT it’s ace, but travel responsibly using people like Sala Bai, Soria Moria and angkorhotels.org

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