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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."

Culinary Bliss and Happy People

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 26 April 2007 | Views [1417]

Phnom Phen is a city where I could quite easily see myself living... Compared to Delhi, the capital is immaculate and locals take care to keep their plethora of open green parks and wide streets clean. Funnily enough, the dirtiest part of the city is the backpacker enclave on the lake. Told that this was the place to be, we found a room in one of the many rickety wooden guesthouses built out onto the lake. For $13, our quadruple room was fully equipped with a broken aircon, a bathroom without a door, a sink that was quickly coming off of the wall, and walls that felt like styrofoam. Neverthless, we left our packs in our rooms and emerged from the unbearable heat to check out the local scene. We found ourselves in the next guesthouse where the guests had apparently had too many "buckets" (yes, they really are buckets) of the local Mekong whiskey and soda. Back in our guesthouse we met Sky, a bubbly 22-year-old girl with an infectious laugh, who was determined for us to be her friend and stay in Phnom Phen indefinitely. Having already discovered the riverside and booked a hotel there, we regretfully told her that we had to leave the next day, which was met with "the puppy face" and continued requests for us to stay.

The main strip of the city, where we moved to next, is built along the Tonle Sap riverside. There is a beautiful promenade for pedestrians lined with an eclectic mix of restaurants, including "Happy Pizza" (meaning a la ganga) and classy French bistros, and colonial style buildings donning balconies brimming with bright flowers (all for which we can thank the French!). In the evenings, all the locals stroll along the river or in the parks while their children run around with soccer balls and balloons.

The first noticeable difference between Phnom Phen and India was the welcoming presence of supermarkets! Not only proper grocery stores, but gas stations with shelves full of yummy asian snacks, sliced whole wheat bread, soy milk, and the occasional western snack, such as "Kettle Chips." You might take these things for granted at home, but after seven weeks of condensed milk and white bread, it's quite a treat!

The people in Cambodia are extremely friendly and rarely hassle you (whew! Quite a change from India!). We've met many friendly people who want to sit and talk with us or be our friends. Over the past few days, we were lucky to get to know Jake, a 27-year-old local tuk-tuk driver with a round belly and a propensity to croon country songs by Ronan Keating (?), imitate Californian accents with words like "Gnarly" or BBC sports announcers in a deep British accent. Clearly, he has spent a lot of time around tourists, hence is smoking habit and his catch phrase, "what if tomorrow never comes?"

We hired Jake to take us on run errands our first day here to various embassies for visas, the markets, and the western clinic for Emma, whose digestive track is still a bit dodgy. The second day, he took us to a local restaurant to try Cambodian "big soup", which is similar to fondue. We arrived to the restaurant, where no one spoke English, and Jake did the ordering. Before we knew it, we had a pitcher of Angkor Beer, a stove-top burner, a pot full of broth and mysterious bits of meat (yes, under certain circumstances, we must resort to being "flexitarians" rather than "vegetarians"), and a plate full of morning glory (local green veg), mushrooms, white bean rind, and noodles. Jake helped himself to a small plate of thinly sliced raw meat with an egg on top. We left the work to him and watched as he dumped the raw food into the boiling broth followed by some sugar and fried garlic seasoning. Then he cracked an egg onto his raw meat and swirled it around to coat the meat before dipping it into the pot briefly to cook. We waited anxiously for everything to cook and then dug in with chopsticks and spoons! The food was amazing, and after three small bowls each and about four refills of broth, we were feeling satisfied. Our satisfaction grew when we got the bill for $6. By far the best Cambodian meal yet!

During our stay here, we've had quite the culinary experience (much better than Battambang!). There are a lot of training restaurants in Phnom Phen, which employ local street children and train them to work as an outlet to their former poverty. We had lunch in one place, where we ordered a spicy mango salad and a fish soup - essentially a bowl of broth with a fish head. Cambodians use a lot of prahoc (fermented fish paste) in their food, which has a distinct and not so pleasant smell that prejudices one's taste for it. Another day we had lunch at Friends, a local NGO that also functions as a training restaurant as well as a primary school. They served lots of tapas-style fusion food, such as sundried-tomato hummus on crispy wontons, sweet potato fries with curry mayonnaise, and yummy asian mango salads with sesame and lime.

Overall, we decided that eating with a conscience, especially at yummy places like these, is definitely our style...but shopping with a conscience for silk purses and other fun knick-knacks at Phnom Phen's many ïncome-generation and fair-trade stores is just as fun!! For the rest of our time here, we plan to keep on eating as many different things as possible while trying to maintain our vegequarian habits if possible...

Smiles and happiness,


Tags: Food & eating

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