Day 6: Phnom Penh
This morning we took a Cambodian cooking class that included a trip to a local produce/meat market. Along with fifteen other people, we piled into tuk-tuks (motorcycles with carriages pulled behind) and went grocery shopping. Our instructor pointed out various fruits, vegetables, and spices used in Khmer cuisine, and we passed through a large butchering section (though most of the butchering had been done earlier that morning).
The market was packed; we squeezed our way through the tiny alleys and stopped at several different stalls to pick up ingredients for our lunch (including fresh tumeric, coconut milk, tigerfish, sawtooth coriander leaves, and taro root).
The class was held outside on a rooftop of a nearby building; we got aprons and a brief overview and got to work. The menu was spring rolls with taro, carrot, and peanuts (with sweet & sour dipping sauce), and a traditional Khmer dish called fish amok, or steamed curried fish. The spring rolls were a community effort, with everyone helping shred and chop vegetables, mix the filling, and roll it into rice-flour wrappers. We sat down to enjoy the delicious fried goodies before moving on to the main course.
We made the curry base for the fish amok from scratch, using mortars and pestles and fresh turmeric that turned our fingers yellow. The curry base (lemongrass, turmeric, garlic, shallot, galangal, chili peppers, and chili paste) was mixed with fresh coconut milk, egg yolk, palm sugar, shrimp paste, and chopped peanuts, and thinly sliced fish was stirred in last. The dish is traditionally steamed in a “cup” made from banana leaves, which we all more-or-less successfully created.
Fifteen minutes of steaming later, we enjoyed our delicious curry with rice. This dish was very easy to prepare, although I don’t know how practical it would be to replicate it at home. Banana leaves might be a bit of a challenge to find! We received a recipe booklet with both dishes we prepared as well as a few others. The class was extremely well-run with great instructors – we’re really happy we signed up. 🙂
Back near the hotel, we browsed in a few shops before heading back to rest a while and catch up on the blog. We planned to visit the Central Market, Phnom Penh’s largest, but were disappointed to realize (at 4:30 PM) that it closed at 5 PM. Since we had already visited the night market, we checked the guidebook and learned that there was a theater showing shadow puppet performances every Friday and Saturday night. Sold! We walked to a nearby noodle shop for dinner and thanks to some iPhone sleuthing, found a supermarket to get some things for our bus ride the next day.
With 45 minutes before showtime, we tried our best to convey our destination to a tuk-tuk driver and set off in search of the theater. Forty minutes later, after turning around several times, stopping for directions, and ending up at the end of a dark street where there definitely was no theater, our driver stopped to ask directions once more and was gratefully pointed in the right direction by a large group of nearby children. We made it into our seats with a minute to spare (as has been our MO many times this trip so far).
The shadow puppet performance was fun, featuring a live Khmer-music orchestra and a storyline we didn’t necessarily follow but enjoyed anyway. After the one-hour show, we got to go backstage and see the beautifully-made, intricate puppets.
We took a much smoother tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel and went for one more swim, stopping for fruit shakes and board games at the poolside cafe.
Our time in Phnom Penh was brief but very enjoyable; I hope to return here someday. Next up: the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap!