I’ve eaten a lot of weird stuff so far. I honestly didn’t think I would be an adventurous eater here. As it turns out, when food is put in front of me, I feel totally open to trying it with only slight hesitation, as weird as it may be.
I’ve found the food here to be very tasty. Much better than I thought it would be, and much better than it smells, to be honest. Every dish I’ve had so far has been different – some similar meats, a lot of cucumber actually, and always rice, but different meats, spices, types of fish, vegetables, etc. It makes me sad for America that we are so boring (and unhealthy) about the foods we eat and the way we cook (aka process and preserve) things. I mean, when I was growing up (until about high school), I wanted everything to be as plain as possible. Pasta, bread, burgers, potatoes – no vegetables ever and “no unnecessary sauces” as I liked to say.
One reason that I feel pretty open to trying things is because I know it is probably very healthy for my body. So far my stomach has actually felt better here! I think that there are a lot of nutrients in all these different types of foods, which provide nourishment and aid the digestion system. And it actually tastes good! This was a big prayer request I had after I entered the country and saw and smelled some of the food. I was pretty nervous.
So, here is what I have eaten so far.
Fried rice with chicken and shrimp. Pretty normal. The skewers had some kind of unusual, delicious sauce/spice on them, so I’ll classify that as a new food.
We had a feast! This was when my professor was meeting with a prospective graduate student. He stayed and ate dinner with us. We ordered way too much food! This meal the new thing was black chicken soup. Would not recommend.
Mango fish sauce. I liked this a lot! Not enough to eat gobs of it, but it was great for dipping my fish in (that is what fish sauce is for – cue “ohhhhh”‘s if you also didn’t know why fish sauce existed. (I mean, it sounds obvious now that you think about it, but I knew that fish sauce was made from fish, didn’t know it was meant for eating with fish.).)
Fried fish eaten with said fish sauce. When asked how you eat it, the Cambodians answered, “You eat all of it.” Even the bones? “Yes. The fish have bones that are good for your body.” Cambodians try to eat everything, because there are many things in them good for our bodies. I love that philosophy! (Kind of reminds me of Native Americans.)
This is a fantastically terrible picture, but it looks fairly yummy, right?? Beef with some kind of grain (quinoa?), and a little bit of green veggie….
Nope! It’s ants! “Ant with Beef,” the dish was named. I ate a decent number of spoonfuls of the stuff before anyone asked what it was. I thought it was quinoa, and as I am not a big consumer of meat, spaced out my bites with more “quinoa” than beef. So I ate a lot of ants before I knew what they were.
When he said, “It’s ant.” I thought… no, that must not be true… they are tricking us… it didn’t seem like I was eating ant. Sure enough, I used my fork to move around the “quinoa” and saw ant parts. I still thought that it was a little bit of crushed ants mixed with some kind of grain, until I examined the plate closer and continued moving them around, finding only more and more ants as I separated the clusters. Not ant pieces, either – whole ants. Whole ants not crushed up or anything; some were bent but some were perfectly ant-shaped.
As I was moving the ants around, I found one with wings. Seeing as an entomologist was sitting next to me, I figured he could identify it. “Is this an ant, too?” He examined it and one of the Cambodians overheard and looked at it, and they decided that it was a queen! So I laughed and hesitantly asked, “Do I get a prize for finding the queen??”
I’ll be honest, I was a little put off after examining the (dead??) intact ants on my plate. I then remembered how readily I had eaten them before knowing what they were, and we had some dialog around the table about how it’s all your perspective, and it’s completely mental. I tried some small bites to figure out the texture. Yes, definitely crunchier than a grain (I had just assumed it was undercooked!). I didn’t eat the dish quite as readily as I had before, but with all the options before me, I came back to the ant with beef more often than anything else, and at the end declared it my favorite dish of the night! (I am just as shocked as you are!)
For breakfast the next morning we went to a local restaurant. I was a little worried about the sanitation of the place as it looked more local and grungy than anywhere we’d been before (though the restaurant the night before certainly wasn’t up to western standards). There were cats, chickens, and dogs running around, so we dubbed the poultry “free range chicken” and everyone thought that was funny (hey, we’re all studying agriculture).
I had wanted fruit, but they didn’t have any, so I tried to eat some of the chicken. I’ll admit that watching them cook the food on a dirty table behind me and serve it without using any kind of cleansers or gloves didn’t make me feel wonderful, and I debated briefly becoming a vegetarian. In the end I ate a lot of rice with lime (and some broth poured onto it). The chicken was very stringy and hard to bite into, but it tasted pretty good! So there you go… free-range chicken, ha!
This meal was prepared for us by an organic farmer in Takeo province. The Cambodians knew the place as a reliable restaurant where you could enjoy someone’s home and pay them to cook you a good meal. Pretty cool concept. When we got to their home we wandered around for awhile all around the property before lunch was served. It took awhile for them to cook the meal.
During this meal one of the things I tried (besides more free-range chicken – that my professor watched get slaughtered, and the others whom I fed my watermelon seeds to) was a cheese sauce/dip thing. It was really gross – smelled very strong. Actually I didn’t mind eating it so much after I had a few bites, but it smelled so bad, and tasty strongly. That was the gross part. I would probably try it again though.
Additionally, I had another new food – water glory (also known as morning glory). This is the green sprouts you see pictured at the top below. I LOVED it!! You just pick one up and chew on it. It made me feel so “wilderness girl.” When I was a kid I always wanted to live *outside* and would pretend to eat berries and things that I found. Eating these freshly picked water glory sprouts fulfilled that dream for me!
This was something I’ll hopefully get to have frequently: fermented Chinese radish. From reading Drea’s blog, I have become very interested in trying fermented foods because I’m learning how good they are for your digestive system. They have so many health benefits! I was hoping to try some fermented food before buying it on my own though, in case I didn’t like it. They told us it was Chinese radish cut up like snake. Again, I was worried that this was actually snake and not a vegetable! I’ve come to learn that Cambodians are very trustworthy and won’t try to trick you into eating something that you don’t know what it is.
It was definitely a unique taste to get used to, but because I didn’t like a lot of the other food as much, and I knew how healthy this was, I ended up having a second sliver of radish. And like I said, I hope it’s offered frequently this summer!
Next is a meal we had at my favorite restaurant that I’ve been to twice. It is SO pretty! You’ll see more pictures of it later. The food is really good (like gourmet Cambodian food, basically). It is clean and the food reminds me of gourmet Thai food, where all of it is delicious and even looks pretty. A whole meal with several dishes shared between 4-5 people is only $20. It’s so great!
The dish on the right is catfish with vegetables and pineapple. I LOVED this dish. Could eat it for every meal.
Next is Tom Yum soup with chicken. This is a popular Thai soup that one of the professors who visits Thailand (or as he pronounces it, “Thailend”… like “Danvulle”) ordered. It has tomatoes and basil… which seems American enough, but of course there are also hot chilies in it. 🙂
The stuff on the left is the vegetables from the catfish dish pictured above. On the right is ginger beef with rice noodles. I didn’t love the flavor… ginger is not my thing. Maybe I’ll get used to it. As you can see there is no shortage of chilis during a meal. XD
For dessert at this restaurant they give you a plate of nicely cut fruit. Last time was (cutely shaped) pineapples; this time was dragon fruit. I now LOVE dragon fruit. Mostly these cute little bites of it. It’s so fun to eat because it comes off of the peel so nicely. 🙂
New foods not mentioned: I had a meal that I didn’t photograph at the nice restaurant where I tried soup with snake hat fish (still don’t know what that is, haha) – I stared at Makarady blankly when he said it over and over again. He tried to get my attention and I realized I looked out of it, and double checked to make sure it wasn’t snake, but fish. He made some hand motions and I figured it out finally. I also had egg with fermented pork and veggies, and squid. Again, I liked it all!
This plate is out on the breakfast buffet every day. The buffet has all kinds of western and Asian foods. I love that on the American side there are baked beans…. lol. I also think it’s strange that there is a salad section. Don’t they know we don’t eat salad for breakfast?? The Asian offerings include dim sum, noodles, and stir fry. I’ve noticed that a lot of the Asians will PILE fruit on their plate. Maybe they’re vegetarians. Anyways, this plate of “three kind of cheese” makes me laugh.
The next stuff is kinda gross.
First up, crocodile. Not cheap either.
I debated, but decided not to spare you this picture of these fresh, not sanitary squids.
Floor limes (grocery stores are NOT, I repeat NOT sanitary)
I don’t know what this is but it sounds disgusting.
Lol… hooch drinks XD
And last but not least, hot dog pizza. Yummm.
…the least disgusting category of all
Fresh passion juice mojito. With seeds too – but at least you know it’s fresh!
Anyone who has been to Asia should not be surprised that tea is offered frequently throughout the day. Here, it is always green tea. This country is not famous for tea, but I love their green tea. It is less bitter than I am used to, which is why I like it better. I hope to pick up a bunch of loose leaf to take home with me!
Hot green tea
Iced green tea – I could absolutely get used to this. (This was at the nice restaurant mentioned above.)
Orange juice, passion juice, and mango juice are offered at the hotel breakfast buffet. I like to mix them together.
Fresh passion juice. Passionfruit is my FAVORITE fruit, especially as a drink. I LOVE getting fresh passion juice here!! It makes me feel like I’m back at home in Venezuela (where I would frequently get iced passion tea). 🙂
One drink not mentioned: Fresh pineapple juice. It was so freshly squeezed and foamy. Thick like a smoothie. Ahh, it was amazing.