Cambodia – A culinary delight!

Originally written in 2012 whilst working at an NGO in Cambodia… Enjoy!

Cambodia… the food is not what I expected.

So we have been in Cambodia for just over two weeks and I can not say enough good about this country.  I love Cambodia.  This place is so fascinating and never disappoints.  Wonderful little surprises are around every corner.  I came here expecting similar food to what one would find in Thailand or Malaysia, but I must admit that it has over-exceeded my expectations a thousand fold.  I have never in my life been exposed to such high end gourmet cuisine for such affordable prices.

Cambodia has a rich French history and was a French colony for almost 100 years with independence coming in the 1960’s, so there are still strong ties to the old colonial way of life.  Phnom Penh is littered with beautiful French architecture, European style gardens and the food, oh my god, the food.  Let me tell you about it.

To eat and live in Cambodia is extremely affordable, with the average yearly income around $750USD, you can get a damn good meal for about $2 and because of this fact, my partner and I have fully indulged in culinary delight.  Since our stay here we have been to no less than 10 excellent restaurants and have a list ready to attack for the remainder of our stay.

It is common culture here to eat out every meal because it’s so cheap and most people don’t have the means for personal food storage at home, so we are trying to fit in culturally.  Go on, bend my rubber arm to do so, I don’t mind.

We have experienced some truly incredible meals here.  This city is built around excellent restaurants and we have been to some of the best.  The prices have ranged from $4  to $20 per meal, and they were all great and I’ve tried the full range.

So, to start at the bottom and work our way up.  I ate a bug.  Yes, you heard it right.  In Cambodia the locals regularly eat bugs ranging from small squishy larva (this is what I tried) to large crispy tarantulas.  I can’t really explain how it tasted because I just tried to swallow it as quickly as I could.  I just wanted to say I did it.  My partner wouldn’t even take a nibble.

We also ate at a couple of restaurants that have taken street children and use the restaurant as a training center to teach street children the skills needed to work in the service sector.  It was traditional Khmer food and it was excellent.  Great atmosphere and the proceeds were going to a good cause.

In the ways of fine dining, we have been to four top end restaurants.  Three French places and one Khmer joint.  They were Armand’s, Mallas, Topez and La Residence.  All were 5 star restaurants with beautiful modern decor, impressive service, stocked wine lists, elegant plate display and excellent food.  At all three places we had 3 courses with drinks and coffee.  I had foie gras, stewed lamb, roasted duck breast, creme brûlée, and escargot to name a few of the dishes.  It was comparable, if not better than any restaurant I’ve ever eaten at.  I thought I was going to come to Asia and loose weight; it’s not the case.  It’s really nice that we can afford to go out for really extravagant meals here, because back in Australia this would not be possible.

We have also tried some of the local seafood.  This past weekend we went to the beach and stayed on Bamboo Island for a night.  On our way back we were fortunate enough to try Cambodian grilled lobster, served to us on the beach.  We bought 7 of them for $5 and they were mouth watering.  They were right out of the sea and you could really taste the freshness mixed in with lemon and garlic salt.  Eating a bucket of them on the beach with a pint of draft was heavenly.  We then ventured to a place called Hoppa where I got a seafood platter for $7, which consisted of grilled fish fillet, huge prawns and tender succulent squid.

If you ever make it to this country make sure you indulge in the culinary delights Cambodia has to offer.  You will not be disappointed.  This place is a food freaks paradise.

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