Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cambodian Cuisine

The flavors of Cambodia are as diverse as the grasses of the fields...or of the rivers and ponds. We have been introduced to a wide variety of typical dishes here at the Cambodia Bible Institute. Srey Nang has learned to cook from her father, and Sokhom has had lots of experiences fending for himself. Some people can play the piano by ear, but I believe that Sokhom cooks by taste! If he has something anywhere in the world, he can explain the recipe and procedures to Srey Nang who can duplicate it to the T! ****Each day begins with a trip to the market to purchase the daily supplies and ingredients for the three meals. Market is about a mile down the road at the bend in the road. The local vendors begin setting up shop around 6:00 as the ladies descend on their spaces. The village officials come by daily to collect fees based on the location and size of the space needed. Most vendors are on the street itself while a few have wooden tables or even a storefront from which to dispense their wares. Bargaining is a daily process as Srey Nang and Phalika negotiate with the vendors for each portion of the recipe. Srey Nang selects what she needs and makes the deal then leaves Phalika to finish the process while she moves down the way to the next vendor. One will have the seafood items with big aluminum bowls filled with shrimp on chipped ice, squid, fish with heads still attached--some actually still swimming in the bowl to guarantee freshness. If Srey Nang selects a live fish, the vendor will prepare it while Phalika waits. Lotus roots, banana flowers, morning glory stems with leaves, anchovies, and sometimes small catfish to be fried chunks of fish to be boiled in the soup are daily staples for the school. Yesterday Srey Nang drove out to purchase June's supply of rice and 50 kilo bags or about 770 pounds of rice alone!!! The students often have a breakfast of rice left over from the day before or the equivalent of a packet of Ramen noodles. On occasion, they get a treat of a "hoagie" bun with "Eagle Brand milk" inside. Every meal begins with a large helping of rice. Normally a soup is served with at least two meals each day. The additional items on the plate depend on what is found at market, or what time of the month it is. There are occasionally fruits added to their meal...often a student will find a mango fallen from a tree or purchased green as can be to be eaten like we would eat an apple-skin and all! Life is easier for Srey Nang when there are no "guests" or visiting speakers in the school. Everyone joins the students in the back room on the floor for meals all together sharing one and all the same. While we visit, the meals are adapted for us and served at the table with Sokhom eating with us a combination of Americanized Cambodian meals and what has been served to the students. Of course, Sokhom says we are easy because we eat whatever Srey Nang serves us. Some of their guests will not even eat any form of fish and they wind up having to go out to eat often! By not leaving the school grounds, we are able to get more time with the students, children and family. Srey Nang enjoys creating typical dishes for us and trying out new ideas for us. Sometimes she will skip the rice for us and make Cambodian Chinese food with noodles as a base and a fried egg topping it off. One day she made pork chops and another sweet and sour pork ribs. Breakfast has been a wide assortment as well. We have had French toast, omelet. manioc root pudding, rice soup and We have become accustomed to eating rice twice daily, lotus root soup, morning glory stems, bokchoy, chives, whole fried fish, squid and many other items we have not had identified. I have experienced the local morning market shopping and we have shopped at the main grocery store downtown. I have been to the local "Walmart" and even visited the neighbor's stand next door where she sells mangos from her tree. Ginger root and bok choy are used to spice things up and for making into pickles. Cambodian food is delicious. It is distinguished by its variety of green leafy vegetables added to a fish based soup. Joe enjoys adding soy sauce to his rice for additional flavor. A variety of fresh local fruits have been our dessert twice daily: small ripe green bananas that are very sweet, chubby, chunky yellow bananas with a delightful flavor, rambutan, mangosteen, watermelons and mangos! Our favorite is the mango, so it is served quite often. **** Friday night we are going to introduce the students to American hamburgers and French fries. Sokhom is borrowing a grill and we are hoping seven pound of ground beef will be enough to feed our gang!

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