Culinary Shock in Cambodia

Don’t worry. It was freakin’ delicious. So, I got the smart idea today of looking up my neighborhood on Google Maps, satellite mode, and street view. I saw about as much doing that as I did walking, surprisingly, since I walked the same route.

Google-maps-market

The Old Market, as seen from Google Maps + satellite + street view.

I had a mission, and that was to price bikes and buy bananas in the open market. I didn’t set the bar too high, I know. It still takes a little bravado the first time you walk off by yourself in a new direction, in a country you’ve only been in for a few days, and into the mysterious cloud of fine red dust. Kinda’ like they didn’t do in the movie Lost In Translation until the very end, when they briefly exited the luxury hotel and peered into shops.

Yeah, I was getting hungry. It was after 2:00 p.m., and I’m sick of paying tourist prices for tourist food. The gullet demanded some sort of security deposit. I walked the length of the street, past a few perhaps not-super-promising “international” schools (hopefully not like in China when a restaurant names itself “Five Star Restaurant”, but hasn’t actually been awarded 5 stars by anyone), and an international language school (more promising). Promising in terms of possible teaching options, if you hadn’t guessed that already.

Once you hit the intersection, swing right and you see the massive outdoor market. Oh what a beauty it is. It’s got everything you’d want in a photo feature in Nat Geo. I did a circuit to get an idea of the scope of it all. All your fruit and vegetable needs can be satisfied. Tubs of arm-thick snake-head fish. Pig’s heads. Chickens being de-gutted. Sellers languidly slouched among their meat for sale. Flies. Smells. TVs. Clothes. Barbers. Fried grubs. Baguettes! Watches. Toys.

But no prices anywhere. Nooooo, not bargaining. Not bargaining in Khmer! Do we really need to test my language metal and willingness to embarrass myself being both completely green and speaking like a 2 year old? Stomach says “yes”.

Cautiously I eyed some deep brown chunky fried grease balls, possibly potato. A girl was buying some so I lingered to see what kind of bills she proffered. It was all Khmer money and no $, so it couldn’t be much. It appears that once you get up to a dollar, you switch from Cambodian currency to American. Yes folks, American dollars are standard currency here, which is why all you Americans should come out and see the other side of the world when you get a chance.

I went for it. It was tricky. I had to try to find out how much money for how much food. I blew it. I was asking for a kilo, which would have been far too many chunky grease balls. And the cost was insanely cheap, like 10 cents. That was just for one, I discovered. So I got three, and ended up with two somehow, for 400 riel. 1000 riel is 1$.

Then I got some bananas. Fortunately I know how to ask how much for bananas: Plai jAk tuh-lai bOn mahn (I use my own home-brewed and super easy transliteration). It was less embarrassing. I paid $1 for two bunches. To judge costs, I just do a little math – I’m underdeveloped at math so when I say “a little” I mean it – to measure prices against prices in Thailand, where I know what stuff costs. It checked out. Finger bananas are the pricey ones in Thailand, and I can usually only get one bunch for around 25-35 baht, or $1.

I asked myself if the sellers weren’t even trying to rip me off. This market seems to be the one that is NOT for tourists. I only saw two other Barang (it means “French” cuz they came first and set the mold for all Westerners). Most tourists go to the night market, I think, which is probably a bit more antiseptic, and with more spoken English.

Decided to head home with the spoils when I came across a woman stirring up some noodles in an oversized skillet. A customer was getting take-away. The negotiations began, though they were probably just the cook trying to get me to understand correctly. Which I did. Got the noodles, the fried egg on top, and the stuffed rice grenade for 5,000 riel, or about – wait, let’s be precise and use an online currency converter – exactly $1.22.

What the hell, let’s do all the math

2 bunches of finger bananas (4,000 riel): $.98
2 chunky grease bombs, possibly potato (600 riel): $.15
Yellow noodles with fried egg on top and stuffed rice grenade (5,000 riel): $1.22

Dtee-uhng Ah’ (altogether): $2.35

Then I checked out the bikes just to get an idea. I didn’t wanna’ investigate too thoroughly because I wanted to eat the food hot, whatever it was, and hoped I wouldn’t have another existential session of contemplating the burden of a consciousness being saddled with delicate, aching organs, readying themselves to violently expel unwelcome fuel. The guy said the used, cheap bikes were $40-45. Seems a bit much for what you get. I’ll have to shop around later.

BEHOLD THE BOUNTY!

bounty

Pretty good haul for a coupla’ bucks and a quarter.

I warmed up with a couple finger bananas. Sweet. Nice. Then I tried one of the deep brown grease balls. Not bad. Not bad at all. Kinda’ good. Mmmm. Yes. Good.

And then it was the main course. Oh, shit, we don’t have a fork. I had a metal soup spoon, like the ones in China, which I use as a spinning pointer in class, so had to wash it. Hmmm. Of course the egg is good, oozing it’s yellow-orangey yolk into the noodles. The rice grenade has spring onion or something similar in it. Now this food really is not bad. Mmmm. Oh, wow! The orange sauce tastes tangy and like an Indian sauce. Yes. Dang! This is most delicious!

INSIDE-THE-street-food.

Much better than I expected. Actually yummy.

I polished off the whole Styrofoam box of Khmer street food. And I’m still feeling good. It was ch’ngahn nah’ (delicious very). It was probably even better than the steak burritos on Pub Street, minus the $1.50 marguerites. I’ve still got a chunky brown grease bomb for later.

~ Your independent artist staying alive in Cambodia.

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