For Emily’s birthday we decided to splash out on a mini break. City life in Phnom Penh was getting a bit much so we decided to brave the arduous bus journey to Siem Reap. This is a particularly annoying bus trip; it isn’t too far but it takes about 7 hours (no exaggeration) as they seem to be re-building the whole stretch of route 6 at once. If it wasn’t for the hellish bus ride we would be up in gorgeous Siem Reap every weekend. Previously we enjoyed staying at Pippeli Pensione so we booked two nights again this time. However the cheaper rooms were fully booked so we had to hang around to get a late deal on the fancy room with the big terrace and massive bathtub – no hardship.
The bus arrived just as the heavens opened, so we got a tuktuk to the hotel (probably paying over the odds as we have got used to Phnom Penh prices) and checked in to our spectacular room. Famished and exhausted we ventured out into the tropical storm and got as far as the Hard Rock around the corner, wading through the brown river that the road had become. It is quite surreal to sit in a Hard Rock Cafe eating ribs and watching the Cambodian rain pour down. It must be a new Hard Rock as they had a lot of American staff over, training up the Khmer waitresses and bar men. There were a few teething problems but it was pretty much as you’d expect from a Hard Rock. At least now the knock off Hard Rock Siem Reap t-shirts for sale at the night market could pass as being legit!
After one night sleeping on a gorgeous comfy bed we realised two nights away just wasn’t enough, so thanks to birthday money from Em’s Dad, we booked an extra night.
When in Siem Reap this time we wanted to do a cooking course and go to the Phare circus, which previously we hadn’t had time for. We had debated on previous visits whether to shell out the $15 per ticket for the circus, but we are so glad we did this time. It was spectacular. The performers are educated in Battambang through an NGO which provides schooling for over a thousand street children, including arts and performing arts education. The NGO employs graduates within the circus, having several companies on tour as well as shows in Battambang and Siem Reap. The circus has all the things you would expect in a traditional big top; acrobats, clowns, strong men, jugglers and fire tricks. However the production is based around a story of a group of friends and the acts are all weaved in to the narrative. This made the show believable, modern and captivating.
Sian’s friends had previously had cooking classes at Le Tigre de Papier so that is who we booked ours with. At $14 for a three hour class ending with a three course meal it is excellent value, well worth it! We picked different starters and mains, and chose a dessert between four of us in the class. It was good to be able to pick different options from the menu, as some courses we looked at were upwards of $25 with a set menu.
We picked different dishes as we thought it best to get a bigger repertoire when we want to cook Cambodian cuisine at home. However just one week later we can barely remember what ingredients or processes we used. Luckily Le Tigre sent us a link to the recipes after the class. Sian chose to make green mango salad followed by fish amok, and Emily chose fresh spring rolls with shrimp and Khmer chicken curry. These dishes are some of our favourite in Cambodia so we thought we could make them again while we are staying here. However after three hours perspiring in an open kitchen there is no way we are going to attempt these in our enclosed flat.
The cooking class started with a walk around the market, where our teacher explained to us what everything was on the different stalls. This was useful as although we have looked around many markets during our travels in Asia, we never know what half the stuff is. We saw watermelons smaller than a fist, fish heads, pig trotters, fresh spice mix and the usual pungent array of Cambodian market fayre.
When we got back from the market the teacher gave us a couple of ingredients at a time for us to prepare for our dishes. We all chopped the various spices and herbs, onion and garlic and made our individual pastes in a pestle and mortar. We then took turns in going out to the balcony where several stoves had been set up. Each dish contained liberal servings of coconut milk and palm sugar – definitely not slimming world!
As well as making the delicious dinners we also hand crafted carrot decorations and banana leaf bowls for the table. When we finally sat down, exhausted, to our meal we were pretty chuffed with ourselves. All the food was delicious. The only let down was the dessert (which isn’t something done well in Cambodia) which was an egg custard steamed inside a whole pumpkin. We opted for sweet custard instead of extra-sweet, which meant pudding just tasted like omelet and pumpkin, instead of the sweet egg custard we were expecting.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could try making some of these dishes at home, the recipes can be found here. Galangal can be substituted with ginger and palm sugar with brown sugar.
If you’re not feeling adventurous please have sausage and mash, pie and gravy, pasta bake, a pan of Scouse and a Toby Carvery on our behalf (but don’t torture us with tales about it).