Cooking Classes and Rural Train Riding

Even though we had only been in Cambodia for two weeks, we decided that we didn't have time to travel into the remote North East corner of the country as it would involved alot of backtracking on poor roads. Due to poor planning and our visit from Margaux we had already passed through Phnom Penh three times and we didn't want to spend another night in the Lakeside ghetto although we had to pass through the city on our way back from Kampot.

We opted to push a little further past the capital and we ended up in a small lakeside town called Kompong Chhnang. We had planned on staying there two days, but after renting bicycles and hitting the town we realised that one afternoon was enough after circling the place in about 20 minutes.

Once again, the sun was hard on us, and we stopped at a roadside sugarcane juice shop to cool down. A group of intoxicated locals greeted us and the one quasi-English speaker asked us a barrage of questions. We were pressured into drinking some of their home brew, which was the most foul, fermented, disgusting thing I have ever ingested. As they insisted on having us drink more and seemed to get increasingly agressive, now mainly speaking to us in Khmer, we decided to play dumb, hop on our bikes and ride away. I wondered if I might drop dead from the drink. This was the most excitement we had in Kompong Chhnang. The next morning we got up early to catch a bus to Battambang, the third largest Cambodian city, sitting a few hours from the Thai border. We arrived before noon but spent alot of the day indoors as we got rain! Only the third time 4 months. For dinner we headed to the Smokin'Pot restaurant, where we wanted to sample the food before signing up for their cooking class. After dinner we paid our deposit and were told to show up the next morning for shopping at the market.
Our class was an excellent deal, we paid 8$ each and we spent most of the day shopping and cooking. Even though Yann and I have visited our share of Asian markets, we still saw a few new ingredients, like the huge barrels of fermented fish paste covered in flies and smellier than blue cheese. Our instructor didn't buy the premium stuff (stinkier and older) he settled on the mild version for the foreigners, but allowed us to choose whether or not we wanted to add it to our dishes. We had a keen class, all eight of us used it.
We started by making the most well-known of the Cambodian dishes: fish Amok. Most of the work was spent in making our own curry paste, grinding together with mortar and pestle, garlic, lemongrass, chilli peppers, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric and ginger. We each had our individual work stations including small gas stove and wok. Before cooking we had to extract coconut milk from the freshly shredded coconut we had purchased earlier at the market. We placed the coconut in a cloth, then poured water over it and wrung out the cloth. This process is repeated three or four times until all the flavour has essentially been extracted from the shredded coconut. Those were definetely the two most difficult tasks of the day. The other two dishes we put together were a spicy stirfry and a sweet and sour soup. Yann and I both completed all three dishes successfully, but eating the three huge plates proved more difficult for me. I finished my fish amok, but I could only sample my two other dishes. As a conclusion to our cooking class I spent the night huddled over the toilet bowl wishing I hadn't used the fermented fish paste, but not before we spent the rest of our afternoon exploring rural Battambang.
In the late afternoon we hired two motorbike drivers to bring us around the countryside. We were particularly interested in the bamboo trains, makeshift motorised bamboo platforms that are placed on the train tracks and used to transport locals between villages. Yann and I paid 5$ for a chartered trip down the tracks. The things are scarily fast considering the train tracks which are extremely worn down and crooked. We embarked, together with our driver, our two drivers, and the two motorbikes and barreled down the tracks towards the next village. About half way to our destination we spotted another bamboo train heading towards us. Both of us stopped a few meters away form each other and words were exchanged between both sides. After a short stand-off, the other train unloaded its stuff and let us pass. Yann and I determined that the cart with the least amount of stuff on it has to disembark, seems fair? We arrived at the next "station" followed by a handful of other trains behind us and hopped back on our motorbikes heading back to town. The whole thing is amazing and an ingenious way of utilising the track that passes right through their poor villages. The real train only passes through a few times a week and I'm guessing they have its schedule.


Anonymous said...

Salut vos deux,je ne vous oublie pas,j'ai juste des problèmes d'ordi.Alors,j'ai réussi à regarder les dernières photos,très belles,mais pas trop appetissantes,même en photo ça prend le coeur solide...Quelle audace.Vous m'impressionnez beaucoup par courage et tenacité.Moi je suis épuisé pour vous.Une chance que j'ai pris un break...aah!Lâchez pas,de mon divan je vous suit ,c'est plus facile.Grosse bise. Emélie Bonne fête en retard,si `j'ai bonne mémoire nous sommes de la même date.XXXXXX Super matante¨

Anonymous said...

Coucou les amoureux,

Plus je regarde vos photos et plus je me dis que vous allez avoir tout un choc culturel a votre retour.

Est-ce que vous vous souvenez de quoi ca l'air une PIZZA ou un PATE CHINOIS

Je vous embrasse et bon courage

La plus belle des matantes et surtout la plus fine.


Gillian said...

Howdy. Cooking class sounds like fun, but I am glad we can buy coconut milk in a can! :) And I am also glad that the fish paste we have access to in the local Asian market is not likely to cause gastro!

It was lovely to see the clip in the weekend Citizen! Congrats!