Monday, January 19, 2015

Cambodian Cooking Class

One our last day in Siem Reap, we scheduled a cooking class. This was a great (and tasty!) way to spend the day before our late flight home that night. The class was offered by Le Tigre de Papier, located right on the Pub Street. This place is a restaurant with a designated area on the 2nd floor set up for the cooking classes. What I really like about this cooking class is that you have many choices. We each got to choose our appetizer and main dish from a pretty extensive menu. The group then had to make a decision together on one dessert to make and share.

After making our choices, we set out with our guide to the local market. As we walked through the busy market, she stopped to show us various products and answer questions. We picked up some of the pre-mixed spice packets, campot pepper and more to take back with us in hopes of repeating some of the delicious dishes we had tasted.

After picking up some of our ingredients (because the cooking school is also a restaurant, that allows them to provide you the list of choices they do...we didn't need to shop for all the ingredients on our market stop as most were already being used in the restaurant) we went upstairs to the well-stocked kitchen to begin.

Chef SAM
Diligent Chefs at Work

Beautiful carrot "flowers" which I never mastered

I chose to make some spring rolls for my appetizer and the famous Cambodian Amok for my main dish. Cambodian (Khmer) food shares many similarities with Thai or Vietnamese cuisine and makes use of a lot of fresh herbs. The curries tend to be a bit thinner and less strongly flavored and fish, rice and vegetables feature largely. Delicious kampot pepper is one of the more popular spices, but you also see a lot of tamarind, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime and tumeric used. The cuisines of nearby countries as well as India and France have a clear influence.

For the shrimp spring rolls, we learned how to cut/prep the ingredients, moisten the rice paper and carefully stuff the rolls. The meat (shrimp in my case, pork for B) was already prepared for us. Other class members made papaya or green mango salad (much like those you'd get in Thai cuisine, perhaps with a little less spice).

Veggies for the Spring Rolls
My shrimp spring rolls, B's with pork
We choose a pumpkin custard for the class dessert and our teacher showed us the preparation. She had chosen a small pumpkin at the market, scooped out the center and prepared the custard mixture. It was then poured into the pumpkin, which was steamed.

The main dish of Amok is pretty simple in preparation. Amok was traditionally a fish dish, but can be made with various proteins. I chose fish and B chose shrimp, while another classmate chose chicken.

We mixed the amok spices by hand (tumeric, garlic, red chili, galangal, lemongrass, shallot, kaffir lime leaf), a good workout for the arm with the old mortar and pestle. You can buy the prepared spice mixture at the local market, as we did in order to make this again at home without having to search for all the components. This spice is combined with palm sugar, coconut milk and some shrimp paste to cook up with onions, before adding the protein.

The amok cooking process
The amok, served in banana leaf
Lunch, coming together beautifully



Sunday, January 18, 2015

Holiday in Cambodia: Spring Festival 2014

As we approach Chinese Spring Festival 2015, here's a very delayed post from last year.

It seems that recently everywhere we go in Asia, we like even more than the last place.  Our recent trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia continues that trend.  Having the week off work for Chinese Spring Festival (New Year) seemed the perfect time to visit.  It was just after the peak season (December, January) and before it gets too hot (March onward).

Many people choose to combine Cambodia with Vietnam and/or Thailand, but we mainly wanted time to relax, enjoy the warm weather and not rush around.  The first thing you notice in Siem Reap is how laid-back and relaxed it is.  It very much feels like the Caribbean with its open air shops, restaurants and bars (with the addition of cheap massages and fish pedicures).

There's every variety of tuk tuk waiting to whisk you around town or to the temples. The small downtown is easy to get around and there's a high concentration of restaurants and bars, along with a lively central market.

Siem Reap has grown up for the tourist crowds, and it's a lively scene at night on the Pub Street and beyond. We especially had fun one night sitting on an upper balcony and watching the street vendors (and a few scammers) below as well as watching a large dance party that broke out on the street.

Snakes and bugs...yum! This enterprising stand charges for tourists to take pictures, since many would do that rather than buy. However, with a zoom lens from above, it's no problem.

We stayed at the lovely Diamond D-Angkor, a boutique hotel just a short walk from downtown. Not only was it a lovely spot, the service was the best we've ever experienced (for the price, especially) and it comes with access to a tuk tuk and driver for your stay, to take you to the temples and around town whenever needed.

Of course, the temples of Angkor Wat and beyond are the highlight of any trip to Siem Reap. Here are a few snapshots from our first outing to Angkor Wat. There's no way to cover all the great snapshots from the temples in this blog, so for those who want to view more check out our TwoWhoTravel photo site (woefully neglected lately).

Ta Prohm was our next visit. This temple, made famous in Tomb Raider, is in the middle of the restoration process which lends it a special quality. You're probably familiar with the images of large trees growing up within the temple ruins. We spent lots of time climbing around and exploring this special site.

Another day, we paid a small extra fee to have our tuk tuk drive us out to Banteay Srei, which gave us great opportunities to see life in the countryside on the long ride out and back (including a very pink wedding celebration being prepared).

Banteay Srei is built out of red sandstone and is a smaller scale temple, with beautiful detailed carvings you can still see today (along with many bullet holes from the war years, as our guide pointed out to us). This temple was well worth seeing and though a tuk tuk ride is not the ultimate in comfort, the peaceful countryside and people living their lives along the way made for a scenic ride.