Cambodia: Horrible histories, beautiful temples & elusive dolphins

It’s difficult not to fall in love with Cambodia. We spent our days exploring atmospheric, jungle-encased temples, making friends with warm and welcoming locals, searching for elusive dolphins and sampling delicious and fragrant food. My favourite town was Kratie on the banks of the Mekong, with it’s gorgeous French-era architecture and home to the Irrawaddy dolphin. These fellows don’t leap about like their bottle nosed and spinning cousins. As we silently bob about in our boat, their backs gracefully arch out of the water and every now and then you get a peek at their serene round headed faces. We watched the blissful sunset whilst eating chek chien, crispy deep fried nuggets of banana and yam fried in a coconut and sesame batter.

   

Sharing stories with my bus seat companion en route to Phnom Penh was a delight, although I kindly declined his offer of some deep fried cockroaches. It can be hard for us to understand why people will eat such things, but when hunger dominated people’s every waking moment during the famines, everything becomes edible, and some remain as delicacies. Travelling overland also opens your eyes to the extent of unexploded ordinance and resulting limb loss, and just how dangerous it is to wander off the beaten path.

     

We ate like kings and queens in Phnom Penh, and it’s a city I would happily spend months exploring and eating my way around. My favourite dishes include Khmer yellow curry, rich with turmeric root and fragrant lemongrass, and flavourful summer rolls stuffed with crunchy vegetables and fresh basil, mint and coriander. The French influences are still apparent, and local and European restaurants are widespread. Apparently, the use of cannabis as a culinary herb was common, until the US government refused to offer any post-war aid unless they made cannabis illegal. Though magic pizzas can still be found on the odd menu.

Fancy trying your hand at some Cambodian food at home, check out my Cambodian inspired recipes here.

[1] We read an array of illuminating (and heart wrenching) books and biographies before and during our visit including ‘When Broken Glass Floats’,  ‘Highways to War’, “Off the Rails in Phnom Penh’ (highly disturbing) and ‘Year Zero’.

  • Posted on February 06 2015

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