Provincial Protein – A Guide to Subsistence Dining 1/2August 1, 2014
Cambodian food has a bad rep, and quite deserved too for the most part, with cheap refined cooking oil, diabetes inducing sugar levels and liberal doses of that culinary crack- highly addictive crystal monosodium glutamate, MSG- the stuff that makes Chinese takeaway so unsatisfying 30 minutes after consumption.
There are, of course edible soups and a few nice dishes, Khmer and ‘fusion’ alike, amok, for example- the tikka masala of the region and about Cambodian as camembert. BBQ seafood is still BBQ seafood (with a little bit of sugar added for luck), but on the whole most ‘real food’ tastes a lot like those uncomfortable moments when too much warm crappy beer is swilled too quickly and a bit of sick rises up into your mouth.
Apologists will refute such `food racism (foocism??), and I will stand my ground, but one has to adapt to such things or slowly starve to death- after a while even the most reviled dishes can become almost palatable.
The good denizens of the city may argue over semantics and the quality of gravy to decide the BEST Sunday roast in town (does a monthly fare count?),where to source the juiciest burger in BKK1 or the most authentic pizza in the city (deep pan DOES NOT constitute pizza). Adventurous sorts and keerazy backpackers buy bags of fried bugs and prahoc, in a vain effort to convince themselves that they really are delicious and not anything like crunchy sugar oil with indigestible bits/rotten fish.
Cambodian people, are by nature a hungry bunch, and will consume just about anything of any size- often to the detriment of the local wildlife population. I’ve had the (dis)pleasure to experience the following snacks, and whilst I don’t condone animal cruelty (animal rights are low down on the scale of the Cambodian give-a-crap-o-meter) some of the following tidbits may cause some offence.
Just remember that WWF (the wildlife fund, not the 80s wrestlers) has everyone’s favourite racist Phil the Greek, aka HRH the Duke of Edinburgh as president. Compare him blasting away at fauna with both barrels just for the bally heck of it, to a peckish Khmer armed with a slingshot and decide who’s more sporting? Besides, most if not all the endangered and really tasty animals have already been eaten a long time ago in this neck of the woods. PETA Phnom Penh branch and the International Vegan Brigade are free to throw red paint over me and shout “Murderer, but will probably get a punch in the face. In my defence, I was often drunk when presented many of these fine fares.
Available at all roadside fried meat on hook vendors, the belly pork, although coronary inducing is damn good, the other slop not on the hooks less so. Those old time doggy treats- pig ears are very popular- think chewy jelly gristle with a bit of flavor (mostly sugar-grease). Blocks of black blood, swine noses trotters and fried entrails, whilst not poisonous aren’t easy to swallow- unless you grew up under rationing (as some older readers may have) the bottom shelf is best avoided. Those Brits from beyond the northern outpost of Solihull, where life and women are equally grim, may appreciate pig brain ”Clursest thing t’brawn, lad” but the rest of humanity ain’t missing much.
Any visitor worth their salt has come across pong tiakon – unborn ducks in a boiled egg. My first experience was accidental “WTF? My egg has feathers!” These are all day snacks and common late night munchies all over Cambodia and are an acquired taste. There are other equally nasty looking ways of preserving eggs, such as the Chinese style century egg, which smell and taste like horse piss.
Other less come across fruit of oviparous rear ends have found their way to the plate of Pedro, the most notable being those of the crocodile. Armour plated skin, resistance to disease and a really painful bite have allowed these gargantuan reptiles to survive 200 million years on our planet. That top predator niche can’t be troubled much by the taste of their eggs- spermatozoa covering a ping pong ball of mud- vile. A shame they make such nice belts and handbags. The tails are good eating, and once I got a whole dried n’ smoked baby to eat- crocodilian jerky.
Turtles eggs, on the other hand (consumed raw), have a nice, creamy texture, although it’s best to adopt a ‘swallow now, think later’ approach.
In my garden I got myself plenty of free range poultry, and them there chickens sure do like to lay eggs. These small little white eggs from the local jungle fowl type chooks are best left to hatch, yet always 2 or 3 from the batch remain unfertilized and baby chick free. When all cheepcheep cheeps are accounted for, Mrs Pedro takes any non-hatchers, hard boils them and eats with soy sauce. Nothing too unusual, just eggs left sitting in the tropical heat for 3 weeks. Despite my initial skepticism they taste a bit rich and give me the farts, but thumbs up.
To be continued tomorrow with dogs, bees, frogs and snakes.