Cambodian street food : chilli cockles

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It’s not often I post about things we haven’t actually eaten, in fact never – But, I was pretty surprised by the cockle sellers in Cambodia, for a couple of reasons.

Battambang chilli cockles

Battambang chilli cockles

On the one hand, I’m quite amazed that anyone thought that pushing trays of shellfish around in the midday sun was a good idea; and then on the other I’m surprised that small cities like Battambang can sustain so many people trading the same product.

I’m usually fairly fast and loose with my digestive health, an adventurous spirit, a street food gambler – although Pani puri proved to be a step too far –  I love cockles, but I just couldn’t justify buying unrefrigerated shellfish in the middle of the hottest time of year.

If anybody managed to enjoy these without gastrointestinal adventures, I would greatly like to know more.

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Cambodian street food : Loc lac  (stir fried Khmer beef)

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Beef loc lac, sometimes written as lok lak isn’t exactly a Khmer dish – The name comes from the Vietnamese bò lúc lắc, which translates as ‘shaking beef’ in reference to the constant pan movement to cook the small chunks of meat.

It does however have flavours and ingredients which I found to be inherently Khmer –  fresh pepper & green tomatoes.

Loc lac features on most tourist menus across the country – chances are if you’re looking at an English language menu, it’ll be on it.

Beef Lok Lak
This picture is sourced from Flickr via a Creative Commons License, thanks to Sodanie Chea

Cubes of beef are marinated in a mixture of soy, oyster and fish sauce with garlic and sugar before being stir-fried. It’s usually served on top of a bed of lettuce, with green tomatoes and slithers of raw onion. The meat is paired with a lime, pepper and salt dipping sauce which is both intense and addictive, it’s a perfect accompaniment to the seared beef.
Before the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia in 1975 they farmed what was considered some of the best pepper in the world. Production has taken off again since the removal of Pol Pot and his regime. The pepper has an incredibly layered taste, it’s used in a number of Khmer dishes.

It’s best served with a fried egg on the top and a side of boiled rice (as it’s a tourist favourite, it’s often seen with French fries and may be described as loc lac barang) Expect to pay upwards of $3.50 (15’000 riels ) depending on the location and how touristy the restaurant is.

Useful phrases

Muay – one
Pee – two
Soum – please
aw kuhn – thank you
Lee suen hai /lee hai – goodbye
Soum ket loi –  the bill, please

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Cambodian street food : Kampot pepper crab

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Kampot is a provinical town set against the tek chou river, a gentile place where little happens; a haven of cafes and day trips.

It’s also famous for the production of peppercorns.

Kampot peppercorns

Kampot peppercorns

Before the Khmer Rouge took control of the country in 1975, Kampot pepper was famous, considered one of the premier peppercorns the world over and a popular choice with the French, who have a lot of colonial history in the region. Pol pot and his cohorts took over the country, killed off the elite and the educated and sent the remaining population to work farming rice. During this period the pepper farms were destroyed.

Fast forward to the modern day, the Khmer Rouge have been ejected and although Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the South East Asia region, it does have a rapidly developing tourism scene and the famous pepper is growing again.
The town of Kep, thirty or so kilometers from Kampot is home to ten or more seafront restaurants known as ‘the crab market’ the shacks are perched on the waters edge and all sell similar products – prawns, squid, grilled fish and crab in pepper sauce.

The crab is cooked in a Chinese style sauce, using oyster and soy sauce, with a hit of sugar to create a sweet and sour flavour. The green pepper corns are left on the vine and stir fried with the sweet, succulent crab. The pepper flavour is spicy, but with a sweet fruitiness – a perfect match with the sweet crustaceans.

The glut of near identical restaurants keep pricing competitive and the seafood is super fresh – after you order you’re likely to see someone wade out to the crab traps to round up your dinner – and it’s a truly memorable South East Asian culinary experience.
Useful phrases

Muay – one
Pee – two
Soum – please
aw kuhn – thank you
Lee suen hai /lee hai – goodbye
Soum ket loi –  the bill, please

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cambodian street food : Amok (fish curry)

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Amok is one of the most well-known dishes of Cambodia. It’s tradionally made using fish steamed in a coconut leaf, although it is available in meaty forms too. We tried amok with pork, as we had been spoilt with fish all up the Vietnamese coast. It’s a Khmer curry, made with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and garlic.

It could be comparable to a Green Thai Curry, although it’s quite a different dish, it doesn’t have the aggressively spicy chilli flavours or the fish sauce punch;  but it can be similar in texture and appearance.

On another note, Cambodia’s national beer ‘Angkor’ with the excellent strapline “My country, my beer” is, like most South East Asian beers, quite light and enjoyable. A beer always tastes better when it’s sunny though, right?

We didn’t really get the chance to try too much Cambodian food. We spent three nights in Siem Reap on the way to Bangkok to catch our onward flight, we ate a lot of barbecue after long days at Angkor. Next time, I’ll be coming back.

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