Food reviews and recipes

Cambodian Cooking Class, Phnom Penh

As a massive foodie, I knew I had to learn how to cook a few Cambodian dishes before I left. Luckily, a Cambodian cooking class took place close to where we were based in Phnom Penh. So a few days before we went down to book our places at the Frizz restaurant on street 240, where our culinary adventure was to begin!

Mr. A and I arrived at the restaurant for 9am, where a few tourists were already waiting. Our very smiley cooking instructor, Lucky 2 (Lucky 1 is his brother) had us all introduce ourselves to the 16 other students before we all piled into tuk tuks to go explore a nearby market. Once we arrived at the market, we split up into two groups, and Lucky 2’s assistant (whose name escapes me!) showed us various ingredients found in Khmer cuisine, and answered any questions we had.

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Khmer cuisine is very similar to Thai cuisine. Thai food, and other cuisines based in Southeast Asia have roots in Khmer cooking. However, Thai food changed dramatically with the introduction of chilli, which the Portuguese brought with them when they arrived in the 16th century. Cambodian food is milder, but uses similar flavours and styles.

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Once we’d bought the last bits for our class, we got back into the tuk tuks and were taken to an open rooftop kitchen somewhere on diamond island. The kitchen was a large table complete with our own chopping board and mortar and pestle. I was ridiculously excited.

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Cambodian cooking class

The other students were really lovely, a great mixture of Indian, Norwegian, Mexican and French people. It was a bit like a culinary UN.

There are two options for the class: you can go for the half day (9am – 12pm) or the full day (9am – 3pm). Mr. A and I went hardcore and went for the full day, which set us back $26 each. I thought that was a great deal considering that includes lunch!

We made Chaio Yor, fried spring rolls with taro root and carrot with a sweet and sour dipping sauce to start.

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Followed by Cambodia’s national dish, fish amok. Fish amok is a creamy coconutty curry cooked in a banana leaf and served with rice. It was delicious.

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fish amok

fish amok

The fish amok was the last course for those on the half day. Those of us (around half) that stayed on were to have another two courses. I am so glad I stayed because I now know how to make banana blossom salad, which is now my favourite salad in the entire world! I’ll be recreating some of these recipes on my blog at some point.

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We wrapped the day up by making a sticky rice and mango pudding. I am not a massive fan of sweet rice dishes but this was incredible. My mouth is watering just writing this now!

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I am so glad that I did this class. Even though the rooftop was warm, I love knowing that whenever it takes my fancy I can now whip up something delicious, and it makes me feel like my holiday hasn’t ended.

 

Dining Out in Siem Reap

Siem Reap, like most of Cambodia, has a lot to offer in terms of cuisine. Thinking back on it, I didn’t have a single bad meal during my stay – I’ve been incredibly lucky. As our trip was short we only ate outside twice – our hotel offered a free foot massage or meal, and we opted for the latter (I’m very ticklish).

We’d been hearing a lot about the Sugar Palm, which is where we went on our first night. The restaurant is raised off of the ground, ‘Khmer-style’, and is very open. It had a great atmosphere and even better food!

The Sugar Palm

The Sugar Palm The Sugar Palm

We had a peruse of the menu while having melon and lychee martinis. It was all very exciting.

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The menu had a selection of Cambodian dishes – for a starter we had a pork and pomelo salad, chicken satay and fishcakes. Having made a similar banana blossom salad the day before I was eager to see how it would compare. The first two dishes were excellent – I didn’t care much for the fishcake, but Mr. A ate my portion so that might just be me.

The Sugar Palm The Sugar Palm

For those of you who don’t know what pomelo is, it’s like a large green grapefruit. The outer layer of each segment is bitter, but if you peel the layer away you get these delicious citrusy tangy sacs inside.

After our starters we both ordered a meat dish with basil – I had beef, Mr. A had chicken. It was topped off with ground peanuts, something I’ll definitely be incorporating into my dishes in the future. I especially love it in salad, and gives it extra protein.

The Sugar Palm The Sugar Palm

The Sugar Palm was a definite winner, and had a relaxed atmosphere. There were quite a few families with children in the restaurant, and gave the Sugar Palm a very different vibe from our next recommendation, Asana.

Asana

Asana was recommended to us by the hotel, and is right on Pub Street. Again, it’s another ‘khmer-style’ raised bar, but this time down a little alleyway.

Asana

It was fun going in, it felt rather like a clubhouse – the seats were made of bags of rice, and the decor was really fun.

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Mr A. and I split some delicious spring rolls and dumplings for our starter. In my opinion, that was the highlight of the meal, as they were really delicious. I washed mine down with a very gingery cocktail.

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I ordered the Khmer chicken curry. The flavours were a bit too strong for me – perhaps a bit too coconutty and too much anise. I stole a few bites of Mr. As Bo Bhun, a beef noodle dish with vegetables and spring rolls and it was absolutely incredible. I had serious food envy.

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Asana had an in-house pianist playing lounge music and had a really sophisticated vibe. I enjoyed both places – but I suggest the former for big family gatherings, or for a get together of friends. Asana is definitely more suited for something more romantic.

Restaurant Review: Public House, Phnom Penh

Last Thursday we went to the season 3 premiere of Loy9, a mass media campaign funded by the UNDP and Sweden and produced by BBC Media Action. The show aims at empowering the youth of Cambodia (under 30) – who make up 68% of the population. The premiere was a great success, and the quality of the cinematography and writing of the show was excellent – I really enjoyed the episode, even if some of the references were lost in translation!

After the premiere a few of us trotted on down to street 240, and down an unassuming alley where we came across Public House.

Public House, Phnom Penh

This dark alley is full of hidden treasures, including the Artillery Cafe which is a must if you are into organic, healthy food and green juices. From the outside Public House doesn’t look like much but the interior is decked out nicely with a nautical feel.

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I absolutely love the design and attention to detail seen at the Public House. The cocktail menu was extensive (always a good sign) and the menu full of eccentric twists on classic dishes. They even had scotch eggs on the menu, which Mr. A couldn’t resist. They serve afternoon tea, which is something I will definitely be returning for soon! After a day of running around in the heat, I skipped the cocktail menu and settled on a pot of Japanese sencha.

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Each dish was presented beautifully – just look at this duck on this bed of cous cous!

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I couldn’t resist the burger, especially as the menu said it would be served with ‘tom tom’ sauce which piqued my interest. I was slightly disappointed to discover that ‘tom tom’ sauce is, in fact, ketchup, but that didn’t take away too much from the delicious burger in front of me.

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We finished the meal by sharing a Bailey’s ice cream which was absolutely divine.

Public House, PPDefinitely one to check out when you’re in Phnom Penh!

Restaurant Review: Dine in the Dark, Phnom Penh

In February I took Mr. A to Dans Le Noir in London as part of his birthday present. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, at Dans Le Noir you dine in complete darkness. I mean, you can’t see the hand in front of your face, and for most people it’s probably the first time you’ve been somewhere without a single source of light. It was a great experience – dulling the sense of sight seemed to heighten the other senses of sound, touch and smell, making a really unique culinary experience.

As great as Dans Le Noir was, I preferred Dine in the Dark, located on Street 19 opposite the Lovely Jubbly hostel in the heart of Phnom Penh.

Dine in the DarkDine in the Dark

Perhaps it was the fact that I opted for the Khmer menu (the other choices were International and vegetarian), and that it was my first time having Cambodian cuisine. Or, perhaps, the fact that the restaurant was set up with the help of a local NGO (Krousar Thmey – School for the Deaf and Blind), who employ visually impaired guides to help you to your seats promoting equal opportunities. Either way, Mr A, my friend Sophie and I had a great time.

The lovely Fredo, our guide, encouraged us to use our hands to eat our meal, which was such a relief. At Dans Le Noir there were several moments where I put my fork up to my mouth to find there was nothing on it! Using my hands allowed me to feel the texture of the food, all of which was delicious. I also liked the fact that I wasn’t limited to ‘surprise’ cocktails like its London counterpart, and as a result had a few too many cosmopolitans with my meal.

We ended up having a gorgeous salad with beef, spinach, cashew nuts and prawn crackers as a starter, followed by a fish amok curry in an aubergine case served with sticky rice. After this came a trio of soups in shot glasses, a lovely touch, and an incredible rice pudding. And I mean that – I am so not a fan usually but the addition of the exotic fruits and condensed milk was absolutely divine. After we finished our meal (two hours later – time just flew by!) Fredo led us back into the light, and we were shown gorgeous photos of what we’d just eaten on an iPad. I did sneakily take some photos of my own which I’ve decided against sharing – you’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself!

We retrieved our phones and cameras from the locked box (so you aren’t tempted to whip your phone out and ruin the experience for everyone else) and jumped into a tuk-tuk to go bar hopping. After months of £11 cocktails, can you blame me if I was a tad overenthusiastic at the prospect of $2.50 cocktails?

Amnesia

The aptly named Amnesia, from Jaan.

Blue Mekong

Followed by several Blue Mekongs, sipped as I looked out over where its namesake meets the Tonle Sap.

Restaurant Review: The Sushi Bar, Phnom Penh

On our second day in Phnom Penh we headed down to The Sushi Bar.

We went to the Boeung Keng Kang, or ‘BKK’ location, surrounded by some of the best spas, bars and shopping in Phnom Penh. The area has a cosmopolitan feel, probably due to the concentration of international schools in the neighbourhood. The South-East Asian chain has several dotted around Ho Chi Minh, but only opened in Phnom Penh in 2012.

Sushi Bar Phnom Penh

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I’m usually fairly picky about my sushi – despite my limited budget. Which is why, on first sight, the front cover of the menu didn’t fill me with confidence – sushi ain’t something to joke about! A big red flag for me when I go into a sushi place is mayonnaise anywhere near the rolls – it is just unnatural,  and same goes for cream cheese in my opinion. I’m open minded and up for fusion cuisine but there are just some things you don’t mess with.

Sushi Bar PP

Luckily this wasn’t a problem at the Sushi Bar. I was really impressed with the selection – particularly with the negi tuna handrolls and the aburi, or broiled tuna sushi which I have yet to find in London.

Sushi Bar Phnom PenhI went for the sushi set A – my personal favourites were the eel and ikura (roe) as well as the salmon. I really loved my meal, but the others weren’t so keen on the scallops or the squid – they found theirs chewy to the point of inedible.

Aburi tuna

I greedily ordered the aburi tuna (centre) while the others ordered a negi handroll (left) and salmon avocado handroll (right). I  loved the aoshiso addition but again, the others weren’t a fan! All down to personal taste.

Negi TunaAnd being on holiday and all, I just had to order the negi handroll – I was getting bad food envy!

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Washing it down with a few sips of the local draft beer – (Angkor), my experience at The Sushi Bar made me a very happy girl. I definitely recommend it!

Sushi Bar Phnom Penh