Live Like a Local – Eat Like a Local.
Street Food in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Let’s face it, Cambodia has some pretty funky culinary delicacies, and up until now I haven’t been particularly game to partake in many of them. However, I had made the decision that on this trip I was going all in, and by all in I meant, maybe I’ll try a deep fried cricket. Definitely no tarantulas and never in my lifetime would I eat a duck foetus egg, called pong tia koon in Khmer. So what better way to make my dream of eating a cricket a reality than taking a street food tour in Siem Reap. This tour takes you off the beaten tourist track, to the spots where locals go to snack and eat dinner.
My excitable and smiley guide Kim bundled me into a tuk tuk and we took off for what was about to be much more than I expected. The first stop saw us at a local market where locals come to buy fresh produce and meats to cook at home, however, there is also an abundance of food stalls selling all manner of street food snacks. Deep fried banana coated in a rice flour batter with black sesame seeds was first on the agenda and was deliciously sweet and crunchy. By this point I was feeling quite relaxed until we stopped in front of the barbecued meats and Kim held up a skewer of what he explained was, in English, “chicken’s bums”! A.K.A in Australia as Parsons’ noses.
Not something completely unfamiliar, but also something I always left to the members of my family who enjoyed that particular body part of the humble fowl. “All in”, I said to myself as I devoured the morsel. It was rather tasty I must admit, although I wasn’t so fond of the gristly bits. So far so good right? Well it was all about to go downhill from now as Kim stood me in front of a basket of steaming hot eggs. “Duck eggs”, he explained, and I was completely oblivious to the true meaning of this particular dish as I was caught up in the fun and excitement on this hot and steamy evening in the back streets of Siem Reap.
My good friend Julius had tried to get me to eat this when he showed me around his hometown of Manila, in the Philippines, where the call it Balut. These are baby duck foetuses, slow cooked for hours, and as Kim explained “the duckling is lovely and soft, delicious”. I’m sure the blood drained from my face as I was confronted with the steaming contents of the shell. As Kim delicately pulled the egg apart with a spoon and revealed a tiny head, beak ,and wings my stomach tightened and I was instantly repelled by the thought of putting this ghastly thing in my mouth.
“You go first” I said to Kim, and he dug in as if he were about to devour the most delicious thing known to man. I don’t know what it was but all of a sudden I said to myself “all in”, and I made the decision to try it. And the verdict was not so bad. It tasted as Kim had said, “like a cross between duck and egg”. It was unusual and yet not entirely unpleasant, almost quite tasty I would have to say. Feeling rather proud of myself I washed that down with some fresh spring rolls with dried shrimp and some vegetables wrapped and fried with minced fish as we moved on to the next food experience, the infamous stinky fruit known as durian.
In all my travels in Asia over the years, strangely, I had never tasted durian and had never even had the pleasure of smelling this pungent fruit. To be absolutely honest I did not find the the aroma that unpleasant and the flavour was quite nice, although the texture is somewhat unusual. Kim told me that durian ice cream is quite delicious and I believe it would be so am keen to try it if I can find some. Much more keen than to taste raw salted crab, although this particular morsel was quite nice in the green papaya salad we ate later in the evening.
The green papaya salad was devoured at our next destination, road 60, a popular spot with locals on the edge of Siem Reap. Here you can buy all manner of foods and the first taste sensation was palm fruit. Palm fruit is an opaque, whitish fruit from a palm that looks like a small flattened ball. It doesn’t have a lot of flavour but the texture of eating it is quite nice and it’s full of moisture. And it was just the moisture I needed before the onslaught of the next food stall we visited. Deep fried bugs.
I had intended to try the crickets, however, when coming face to face with the plethora of crunchy creepy crawlies I wasn’t so sure. The offerings included crickets, grasshoppers, silk worms, baby frogs and some ugly kind of beetle, all deep fried and flavoured with herbs and spices. But I had set a precedent with the duck foetus egg and really had no choice but to go all in, and by all in I meant eating a cricket. The crickets, notice the plural, were not too bad. I ate two of them and, besides being mostly crunchy, the spices and herbs gave them quite a nice flavour. The grasshopper, yes all in, was not quite as palatable but not completely unpleasant. Kim was keen for me to try the silk worms, frogs, and beetles as well, but I was done for the night. I’d crossed enough food boundaries for one night. Or had I?
Well the rest of the evening was a little more tame in the food department and the delicious, sweet, and juicy dragon fruit was a welcome and familiar palate cleanser. There were also other fruits, such as mango, and some local varieties of wild plum, grapes, and a type of green strawberry, which had been spiced with chilli and palm sugar. But it was now time for main course and Kim took me past the barbecued meat stalls and was eager for me to try the grilled, unlaid chicken and quail eggs. The eggs are harvested from the slaughtered chickens, skewered and cooked over hot coals. I passed on these and settled for frog, stuffed with pork mince and lemongrass. The frog was absolutely delicious and I ate it with a spicy green papaya salad, all washed down with a Cambodia beer.
I couldn’t have asked for a more interesting night of new and different foods and it was an awesome way to interact with locals, far away from the normal tourist traps. There was also plenty of options for those who wouldn’t want to try the more adventurous street foods and snacks. If you would like to experience the real Cambodia and would like to live like a local for a while check out my Taste of Cambodia Food Adventure Tour. The tour includes cooking classes, street food tours, awesome restaurants, a homestay with a local family, lots of culture and history, and the best food adventures Cambodia has to offer.