Cookery Class and evening excitement – our last day in Siem Reap
30.08.2011 - 30.08.2011 31 °C
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Arriving at cookery school a little late for the scheduled 10am start we find ourselves the only students that morning. Proffered a menu we were asked to select what we wanted to cook. After participating in many southeast Asian cookery courses this was one of the first that took this liberal attitude to recipe selection. In a class of ten the variety of dishes being prepared must take some organization!
For us our market guide and cookery teacher was a lovely Cambodian girl named Savon. With excellent English she first took us on a tour of the market where we purchased sticky rice for our deserts and greedily eyed the fresh fruits and vegetables on display. With no deep freeze and extremely limited refrigeration Cambodians typically visit the local market every day. Meat is fresh, many of the fish were still alive. Finding quality produce at this market would not be difficult. Yet, even here all was not what it seems. Large clear plastic packs of spices were on sale. All were labeled and appeared to hold what they purported – black pepper, dried lemongrass, amok powder etc. Yet, the vast bags of saffron, that most expensive of spices, did seem a little incongruous. Displaying none of the characteristics of saffron (the dried stigma) and not being native to this area of Asia we were a little incredulous. Talking with Savon later she confirmed that it is actually turmeric. That similar colored spice so prevalent in Khmer cooking (I still have the orange fingers to prove it!). Caveat emptor!
Our kitchen for the morning was on the top floor of a popular restaurant. With wooden shutters open we could look out over the city, receiving a pleasant breeze in our open air, modern looking kitchen. Today, we would be cooking a Cambodian sour chicken soup, that classic Khmer dish Amok chicken, beef lok-lak and sticky mango rice with jack fruit for desert.
As the only two participants in the class we were able to ask rather more questions that might be normal and understand a little more of Khmer cuisine. Heavily influenced by Indian cooking, coconut milk, sugar, chili and turmeric were prevalent in many of the dishes. The majority of our ‘cooking’ time was spent on preparation. Slicing and dicing the many ingredients furnished by Savon. Whilst many are now available back home finger ginger was a little different – a very mild version of our ginger and turmeric root (normally only found in powder form back home) proved to be an excellent source of orange stained fingers.
After a couple of hours preparation and cooking we sat down for lunch to sample our efforts. Modesty forbids but we were relatively impressed with our efforts. Trey’s amok chicken had to be the stand out dish. Chicken, amok leaves (or broccoli leaves if amok leaves are not available), coconut milk, turmeric and a variety of mortar and pestle beaten herbs and spices such as galangal, garlic, lemongrass and shallot gave this delicious dish a wonderful flavor. My beef lok-lak with its beef marinated in oyster sauce and fish sauce served with a sour dip of limes, tamarind, sugar and garlic was also tasty. Desert, in the form of sticky rice, was too tempting for even our engorged bellies to turn away. A great and informative experience. We both are hoping to try out our new culinary skills on our return home.
With our departure from Siem Reap now approaching the rest of our day was spent finding boxes to pack our newly purchased souvenirs into (unlike Yangon the secondhand cardboard box market was not obvious here – although surely one must exist!). Trey took the brave step of getting her hair cut, which went well, although they did confuse three and six when taking a number of inches off the bottom. Yet, even while Trey felt she had been scalped her bouffant looked much tidier, with the slight reduction in hair volume surely helping in the hot, humid temperatures.
Retiring for a beer later in the day we were able to reflect that Siem Reap had been one of our favorite stops on our trip, so far. Some five nights in the town had flown by. Out of the main tourist seasons the hotels, restaurants and markets had provided a relaxed setting for exploration with locals eager for both business and general conversation. Siem Reap had proven to be a very easy living city, where we felt we had made a few friends, even in the few short days we had been there.
Returning to our hotel one of our new friends, Koh San and the Batmobile, by chance, picked us up for our final Siem Reap tuk-tuk ride. Riding back in the darkness the sights and smells of the city as it prepared to slumber were intoxicating. Relaxing as we approached our hotel we suddenly found ourselves fighting to avoid disaster. Rather than dropping us at the bottom of small flight of stairs outside our hotel, as was typical of most tuk-tuk drivers, Koh San had decided to take the small ramp up to the very front entrance of the large and imposing hotel. In a tuk-tuk we had proven on our arrival that this was possible. However, not if the steep inside edge of the gently curving right to left ramp is taken. Inches from the top our scooter stalled. At that point we started rolling back towards stone statues and cars. Eager to avoid these Koh San turned us sideways. This of course made the whole, now unstable vehicle, want to turn over. Only, the intervention of two security guards and a night porter saved us from the ignominy and pain of toppling over and Koh San from a very expensive repair bill. Safely at the bottom of the ramp the incident had clearly shaken Koh San, nursing his arm having clearly hit it at some point. We were just glad nothing worse had happened. How would we have ever explained to Ed and Miran that we had written off the Batmobile!