The first stop in my food tour of Cambodia was to Phnom Penh in the south. In the previous post I shared the most difficult day where we visited the genocide museum and killing fields. With the heart wrenching part of the tour complete, it’s time to share some of my favourite veg eats in Cambodia’s capital.
After an overnight flight from Sydney I arrived in Phnom Penh (pronounced ‘p-nom pen’) mid-morning, ready to drop off my bags and hit the streets for a bit of sightseeing and lunch.
During the taxi ride from the airport to my hotel, the driver, in his well-spoken English, explained that curries are big in Cambodia but they aren’t spicy like they are in Thai cuisine. I was excited to start sampling some of the local dishes.
After checking in to my hotel and wandering around town to get my bearings, I ended up at Romdeng for lunch. The leafy outdoor seating area was relatively empty and that gave me an opportunity to relax, take my time and do a little writing. The restaurant is part of social enterprise Friends International and has a program to train former street youths in service and cooking and each of the staff wear shirts with ‘teacher’ or ‘student’ written on the back. This is the kind of place that makes you feel good about supporting.
I started with a creamy cocktail of pineapple, candied ginger and chilli and a chunky eggplant dip with coriander and chilli, served with crusty bread. For my main I had the tofu and noodle salad with pumpkin spring rolls, bowl of sauce and a side of rice. It was packed with fresh veg including carrot, capsicum, coriander, mint, crispy noodles and bean shoots.
Afterwards I spent a little time in the gift shop which offered a range of products made by the families of local street youth and provides and income caregivers. They use waste products like newspaper, magazines, old cutlery and rice bags to make things like jewellery, notebooks and bags.
Another great lunch was at Gecko Restaurant & Bar where I had my first amok curry, a traditional Khmer dish – strong with flavours of coconut milk and lemongrass – that’s usually made with fish. This vegetarian version contained lots of shredded veg and wasn’t as soupy as some of the other amok curries I tasted later in the trip.
On a hot afternoon we took a cyclo ride around town and I scored a friendly and smiley driver who gladly posed for my pre-ride selfie.
Under the dome of Psar Thmei or The Central Market as it’s commonly known, we bought treats from the fresh food section where there were lots of food stalls with snacks being made to order.
It was certainly handy having a guide to help with not getting ripped off as the market is known for overcharging. The American dollar is widely accepted in Cambodia so it can be confusing to work out payments, especially when a transaction can me made using cash from both currencies. I’m not friends with numbers so this is the kind of thing that HURTS MY BRAIN.
From the market we took away little bags of jackfruit pieces, gelatinous sticky rice balls with palm sugar inside and coconut on top (these were SO GOOD) and light savoury puffs, made from dough with spring onion, similar to the Japanese snack takoyaki.
From the market we took away little bags of jackfruit pieces, sticky rice balls with palm sugar inside and coconut on top and light savoury puffs, made from dough with spring onion, similar to the Japanese snack takoyaki without the seafood.
As the sun went down we walked through the park and saw instructors with loud boomboxes leading the locals in aerobics sessions, visited The Royal Palace near the riverfront and watched families set up picnic dinners on the grass.
During my first few days in Cambodia I noticed how friendly and happy the locals were, despite the incredibly horrible and shocking cruelty that occurred in the country not so long ago. Everything I’d eaten was fabulous and I was so excited to spend time seeing more of this fascinating country.
Up next: I share my visit to Battambang including a bicycle ride around the local villages and a travelling on flat bamboo train.
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