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Eating in Cambodia


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I can’t remember what we did for lunch, but for dinner we went to Sala Bai.  This was the smallest of the three hospitality schools in Siem Reap.  It’s run by a French organization that has been operating in Cambodia (or near Cambodia—they were helping Cambodian refugees in Thailand) since 1984, and since 1992, they have continued their work in Cambodia by focussing on education.  Sala Bai is their hospitality school which opened in Siem Reap in 1992.  It is completely free to students, and it relies mostly on funding from French government and private donors (the other two hospitality schools being Paul Dubrule and Shinta Mani which opened in 2002 and 2004, respectively).  All three schools do wonderful work helping severely disadvantaged youths improve their lives, and I would recommend staying at one of them if you can.  We wanted to stay at Sala Bai, but the manager feared the stairs would be too difficult for my mother to manage.   

As a bit of coincidence, when I was in Vancouver I found something I'd been looking for - a Cambodian cookbook.

Cambodian Cooking by Joannes Riviere, photos by Maja Smend. This is "A humanitarian project in collaboration with Act for Cambodia". Joannes was he chef at Sala Bai, in charge of the training courses before moving to Meric at the Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reab.

The recipes are workable, the photos excellent, and it is for a good cause.

Peter’s catching up, so I must move quickly!

"Catching up?" Hon, I'm done. :cool:

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I'm curious, how long did it take to get there now?  I remember it being a bad road and taking most of a day to get there and back.

It's difficult for me to remember (no notes, remember :sad:), but I don't think it took more than 30 minutes to drive out there. Maybe 40, but I think more like 30. It most definitely wasn't most of a day for the trip,

P.S. - The celebration of the first coconut is always an event to be enjoyed.

Agreed! The first, second, third, fourth. . . .

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Peter kicked my little patooty, but I must still complete my task. I'm leaving for another trip in two weeks, after all!

Day 4—when we booked our tickets to SR from Singapore last May, Jetstar didn’t tell us they were going to add a stopover in Phnom Penh on the way back. That sucked, because we had to do Singapore—SR—PP—SR—Singapore, with the intra-Cambodia legs by bus. We could have just gone Singapore—SR—PP—Singapore! Just goes to show you, the early bird doesn’t always get the worm.

But the bus trip was certainly an experience. On our deluxe bus (we only travel first class, after all :rolleyes:), we got a little snack and some water. Fortunately, our water was “disinfected”.

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We got a big kick out of that, and my mother kept saying, “Oh, it’s even been dis-in-feast.” But then I said, “No! It’s been dis-in-fee-ceed. Get it? They took the feces out! Ahahahahahaha!” If looks could have killed, my mother would have committed infanticide. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was so disgusted that she couldn’t drink that water after that. You may remember from the Malaysian portion of our trip that she comes from a long line of germaphobic hypochondriacs, and she won’t even eat street food much less drink disin-feced water! Her trip to the nasty bus toilet didn’t help matters, either. . . :wacko:

We didn’t arrive in PP till mid-afternoon, and I think we had just enough time to do a tour of the Royal Palace compound. Not so interesting for us, but we thought we should go. Then dinner was at our “boutique hotel”. I’m not really sure what makes Villa Langka, a boutique hotel, since the rooms were quite sparse, the hot water wasn’t hot (in fact, it stopped completely for several hours one day), and I could actually twist the water faucet to a complete 180 (could have probably made it go 360, but the taps were in the way). But the rooms were clean, the staff was friendly, and the food was mostly good! The chef was the owner of the hotel—a Frenchman who had moved to Cambodia. The restaurant is by the pool, and they do accept reservations from people not staying there (I think), so if you happen to be in the vicinity of the Royal Palace (it’s quite close) and are hungry, I’d recommend stopping by if you don’t have other plans.

The next day was Christmas! And what says Christmas more than a genocide museum! Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a place no one really wants to visit, but everyone should. It and the Killing Fields (which we did not visit) were the only reasons I wanted to go to Phnom Penh—not because I enjoy the macabre, but because I believe it’s important to confront all that we are capable of doing to one another. It’s probably best not to say more, but could someone tell me what this little boy did to deserve to be at that prison?

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After our visit to the prison, we needed something lighter, so to market we went! Central Market, also known as Psah Thmay, has everything you could possibly want. Need a new pair of shoes? A fake Rolex? Silver handicrafts? How about that ubiquitous Cambodian snack, clams? These were teeny tiny clams, like asari that are used in miso soup sometimes. All over, we would see carts or trays full of these little clams, which as I understand it are uncooked, but tossed with flavourings (chile, garlic, etc.) and left to dry. People buy a bagful and just suck away. We didn’t try any (I’m sure you’re not surprised). Raw clams sitting in the mid-day heat of Phnom Penh? Don’t think so. gallery_11355_6395_27638.jpg

The market is fairly large, and they have tropical fruits galore! We wanted to buy mangosteen, but they were rather expensive because they were out-of-season, and there was no guarantee that they were ripe.

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Somewhere in the women’s underwear section, I found a little tiny cart where they were selling these weird little pickled fruits. At first I thought they were pickled cherries, but they weren’t. I tried one and didn’t care for it, but I could see how it could become an addictive snack along the lines of li huing mi (dried salty plums—salty sweet and sour all in one little dried fruit).

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One thing I found odd was that meat and fruit were often sold at the same stall within close proximity to each other. Sometimes the raw meat would be hanging right above the fruit, and the fruit wasn’t always of a peel-able variety. Cambodians must have very good stomach bacteria to fight off all that possible food poisoning.

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Chicos! My mother loves chicos (also called sopadilla), and she got very excited when she saw them. She even deigned to taste a little unwashed sopadilla cut with the vendor’s unwashed knife! I was very proud of her. And then she even bought some! I think she ended up with about 10 of them.

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More fruit and meat. I wanted the mangos.

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Are these what I think they are?

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Kidneys?

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Brains, very prettily displayed on some kind of leaf—no wonder my mother wouldn’t use the banana leaf at The Banana Leaf Apolo!

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Lunch for someone! I don’t know what it was, but it sure did look good (not that you can tell from the blurry picture). We didn’t try any, though (again, not a surprise).

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Edited by prasantrin (log)
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Day 4 Part 2

We spent quite some time at the market, and only came out with a big bag of chicos, but we got lost a lot (it’s not as big or confusing as a market like Chatuchak in Bangkok, but it’s big enough to get lost--at least for us to get lost, but we aren't so good with directions). By the time we left, we were hungry! Lack of planning, and being plain tuckered out meant. . . back to the hotel for lunch!

We decided to eat indoors this time. Look at my mother. Why is she so happy?

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She’s got her chico! She couldn’t even wait to open one—as soon as we sat down, she started munching on them.

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Her lunch was loc lac. It was like Thai beef salad, but not spicy. And I don’t remember any toasted ground rice in there, either. It was quite salty because they used rock salt—pretty, but unnecessary.

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I had chicken with kampot peppers. With pasta.

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It turned out to be stuffed! It was OK. Chicken breast is never high on my list of things to eat, but the kampot peppers really packed a punch! I love Cambodian peppercorns!

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We went out again that afternoon, but I can’t remember where we went. Oh well, not so important. For our Christmas dinner, we went to Comme a la Maison, just a short walk from our hotel.

My mother ordered an appetizer plate. What’s on it? I can’t remember at all.

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For her main she had. . . Duck? Chicken? Quail? Something with grapes, anyway.

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I had butternut squash pasta. I expected pasta made with butternut squash, but it was butternut squash cut like pasta. I don’t remember caring for my main too much. It wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t interesting to me.

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For dessert, my mother had the coffee roll cake.

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And I had the strawberry roll cake. Loved the little plastic Christmas tree on it. It was actually really good—very moist cake, the icing wasn’t cloying at all. I wanted more.

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I also met the cutest guy here. He even sat on my lap for a short time. I don’t have a picture, but it really happened! OK, he wasn’t even a year old, but for some reason he took a liking to me, and his parents let me hold him while they ate their dinner (we were already done). That’s one thing I like about SE Asia (in comparison to the US and Canada)—raising children is really the responsibility of the community, and parents are not so “How dare you touch/talk to my child!” But that’s another topic. . .

The next morning we were headed back to SR, again on our luxury bus. Just a few more days and I'm done!

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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The next day was Christmas!  And what says Christmas more than a genocide museum! 

That's my girl!

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a place no one really wants to visit, but everyone should.  It and the Killing Fields (which we did not visit) were the only reasons I wanted to go to Phnom Penh—not because I enjoy the macabre, but because I believe it’s important to confront all that we are capable of doing to one another.  It’s probably best not to say more, but could someone tell me what this little boy did to deserve to be at that prison?

They don't go into enough detail when going through these, but Tuol Sleng was important in that the victims here were KR as well. This was the upshot of the ideological split between the pro-Viet cadres and the real hardliners, who were bred "under the bombs" (so to speak) and in the cafes of Paris.

What I found particularly creepy about Tuol Sleng (as opposed to Chong Mek) are the photos. There's one they point out, where you can see the finger that crept in to tickle them, so they would smile for the camera.

When Yoonhi was here last, an older woman came bay, and went over the map. It was a map of Cambodia, with human skulls and bones. She had wandered through the country, collecting bones from all over the country, with that as her mission after her family was slaughtered.

The government took the map down a few years back, I understand.

Are these what I think they are?

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Yes. Yes, they are.

There's another interesting word, too. Psah. "Psah" comes from "bazaar". Cambodia is an important source of Oudh for the Arabs (it's a rot found in woods, and used as incense), and has been on the trading route for this reason for a long, long time.

Rona, I've got to go back soon. Your pictures are making me miss the place again.

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We decided to eat indoors this time.  Look at my mother.  Why is she so happy?

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It's good to have a happy mom!

I have to ask, what was Sisowath Quay like? I'd heard it was ripped up and new infrastructure was being put in. Was it a mess, or did you get a chance for an espresso by the Maekhong?

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I would also say that is a lotus leaf. My mouth is salivating at all those brains, I miss brain omelet (Tortang Utak in Filipino) that my grandmother would fix for lunch. It was always so garlicky and creamy. I could eat a plateful.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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The second order of brains I ever ate was in Penh at what was then Restaurant 88. I remember it being soft, meltingly soft, as opposed to the fried things I'd had with Yoonhi at the William Tell in Vancouver way back when.

Hang Neak, across the Tonle and up along the banks of the Mekong always did really nice brains, steamed with fragrant herbs. And Ton Lok, on Sisowat Quay, was another good place (along with the "road frogs"). This is a dish that does well with the subdued flavours that the Khmer and the Chinese can bring to the table.

Now I want to go back and watch Sean of the Dead again.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I must take advantage of Peter's lull in posting to finish up my trip!

The bus ride back to SR was much better than the ride over. The bus was in slightly worse shape, I thought, but we had a much better rest stop! This rest stop not only had a restaurant, but also a little market!

I was a bit confused about these things.

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Up close, they look like spiders, don't they?

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That's because they are! The woman lifted up her basket to show me the live ones. I'm not a terribly adventurous eater in that I don't seek out weird food, but I'll try pretty much everything at least once. These, however, would never ever ever touch my lips. Ever since Kelly Reimer put a dead spider in my hair in the 4th grade, I've been very afraid of them. Especially dead ones!

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More bugs. I might have tried these had someone else bought them and offered me one.

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Yum! Cooked poultry sitting out in the mid-day heat!

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With their innards, too!

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I think these were mostly dried fruits and nuts.

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And lots of dried fish. My mother wanted to buy some, but I put my foot down. The air conditioning wasn't working too well--imagine how stinky the bus would have been!

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That evening we ended up at Le Tigre de Papier for dinner. My mother had amok--I think this was chicken. Sorry for the dark pictures. She said it was "ok". I had pizza. :blush:

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We found out most of the staff (or all the staff) at Le Tigre de Papier was from SalaBai, so it's good to know the graduates are being employed!

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The next day we went to Artisans D'Angkor's silk farm. You might be thinking, "What does this have to do with food?"

These are the cocoons being boiled so the silk threads can be extracted.

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Once all the threads are gone, what's left can then be eaten! The Artisans guide popped one into his mouth to show us that they were edible. I asked him if these get taken to the market and sold as snacks, but he said they're sold to a chicken farm near the factory.

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For lunch we went to Khmer Kitchen.

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No, not that one. This one which is in an tiny alley-like pathway. I think it's the original, but they now have three locations.

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I had something like chicken with basil, but it wasn't as spicy or as flavourful as the Thai version. Or maybe it was pork with basil.

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My mother ordered chicken larb. This one was actually called larb. It was sort of like the Thai version, but not as spicy or flavourful. Ha ha.

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My mother really liked it, though. It's a bit more citrusy than the Thai larb we're used to, but she liked the addition of the bean sprouts or mung beans or whatever those were.

This was the best Cambodian food we had. It was OK, but it probably would have been better if it had not been served lukewarm.

Our last meal was something I'm not going to tell you about, because you'll kick me out of the club.

We discussed our trip at length, and decided if we returned to Cambodia, it wouldn't be for the food. I think we have too many emotional ties to Thai food, and Cambodian and Thai cuisines are too similar for us to see them as separate entities. Whenever we tasted something, we'd say, "Oh, Dad used to make this, but it was better," or something similar. If we could have found a way to divorce the two, we'd probably have been happier with the food.

Whew! I managed to finish before Peter finished his trip!

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Rona, thank you for finishing your posts with pretty amazing pictures. I would admit that your pics of the arachnid snacks actually made the hairs of the back of my neck crawl and I still have goosebumps. Yes, I have arachnophobia, bad.

Those silkworm cocoons being edible now that is new to me. It is common knowledge that silkworm larvae is a popular street snack food here in Korea. They say it helps clear up the complexion and gives a healthy, pink skin.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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[...]Our last meal was something I'm not going to tell you about, because you'll kick me out of the club.[...]

You went to McDonalds, didn't you?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Thanks for sharing your adventures, Rona. I particularly enjoyed seeing pics of your Mom - a lady I hope to enjoy food with one of these days. :smile:

The silk worms remind me of the ones my grandfather used to love. They were called "rice worms" - loosely translated. Apparently they were gathered in the rice paddies in the spring? My memory is vague but I can remember shuddering whenever the plate was brought to the table. These were mixed in with eggs and steamed.

I wonder how the spiders are eaten, as street food?

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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About the spiders--I found this little bit, and shivered the entire time I was reading it!

There they were, stacks of whole crispy-fried spiders. We ordered about 10 to share, and the vendor placed them into a plastic bag. A true road-side snack, we munched away on these as the bus drove us north to the ancient wonder of Angkor Wat. Some eat them straight like a sandwich, others pull off one or two legs at a time and eat them like french fries. My first time, I was methodical, tasting one leg at a time -- there are 8 of them, of course -- and finally eating the body in two sections. I found it easier to palate the body after the legs had been removed. I also found that a few cans of cold Angkor beer helped get me in the mood, and to wash down the grease.

There are two sections of the body, and the back with the pinchers is the best. The poison is killed when the spider is fried, but it doesn't nullify the medicinal quality -- good for coughs.

Only one of our Cambodian companions declined offers to munch on spider meat. He said he'd had enough of eating spiders to survive the Khmer Rouge years. (More on that later).

Verdict: Actually quite good! No it doesn't taste at all like fried chicken. Some think it tastes like crab, but I didn't find the resemblance. The taste itself is not strong, it's the cripsy-chewy texture that is most appealing. Make sure you have some paper napkins, as the black juice from these is greasy and it doesn't look good on your goatee. I've eaten about 10 insect-type creatures now, and these spiders are my favorite.

The silkworms--after they're boiled, the last of the cocoon is peeled off and the remaining larvae is eaten. He said it tasted like popcorn or something like that (not chicken!).

Pan--I did not go to McDonald's! I don't even know if there's a McD's in all of Cambodia! OK, I'll confess. We went back to Le Tigre de Papier and had pizza and french fries. :rolleyes: We did have our daily coconut fix, too, so it wasn't entirely sad!

And we also scoured the market for phlai teuk-doh koh and swaay chantii. Those were the only two words I learned in Khmer (aside from or-kun "thank you"). For those not fluent in Khmer :raz: they mean "star apple" and "cashew nut"!

About the cashews--at the rest stop I posted about, there was a man selling freshly roasted cashews. He wanted US$5 for a large bag, and I think US$2 for a small one. Expensive! We thought for sure we were being ripped off because we were foreigners, so we didn't buy any.

Later, in Siem Reap, we searched everywhere for them, but it was difficult to find any. At the market, we finally found large bags of unroasted cashews--for us$5 a bag! The same price as the rest stop guy! And the ones in SR had bugs in them, too! So we left Cambodia without any cashews :sad, but my mother did get a couple of star apples to munch on for breakfast before we left the next morning.

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Pan--I did not go to McDonald's!  I don't even know if there's a McD's in all of Cambodia!  OK, I'll confess.  We went back to Le Tigre de Papier and had pizza and french fries.  :rolleyes:  We did have our daily coconut fix, too, so it wasn't entirely sad!

Good girl! You'll always be a member of my club.

We're seriously considering burgers at Smokey's here in Seoul sometime soon.

:biggrin:

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Pan--I did not go to McDonald's!  I don't even know if there's a McD's in all of Cambodia!  OK, I'll confess.  We went back to Le Tigre de Papier and had pizza and french fries.   :rolleyes:  We did have our daily coconut fix, too, so it wasn't entirely sad!

Good girl! You'll always be a member of my club.

We're seriously considering burgers at Smokey's here in Seoul sometime soon.

:biggrin:

I'm planning on having homemade potato chips and a milkshake in the Philippines! If I can get to the right places, that is (I have a list and made my very own google map!).

BTW, the area around Sisowat Quay still seems like a bit of a mess. We didn't spend much time around there, so no coffee for us!

Both PP and SR were quite dusty. I think being exposed to all the fine dust led to the nasty case of bronchitis I had. Next time I go to Cambodia, I'm bringing masks to wear! (surgical type, not Halloween type)

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Pan--I did not go to McDonald's!  I don't even know if there's a McD's in all of Cambodia!  OK, I'll confess.  We went back to Le Tigre de Papier and had pizza and french fries.   :rolleyes:  We did have our daily coconut fix, too, so it wasn't entirely sad!

Good girl! You'll always be a member of my club.

We're seriously considering burgers at Smokey's here in Seoul sometime soon.

:biggrin:

I'm planning on having homemade potato chips and a milkshake in the Philippines! If I can get to the right places, that is (I have a list and made my very own google map!).

BTW, the area around Sisowat Quay still seems like a bit of a mess. We didn't spend much time around there, so no coffee for us!

Both PP and SR were quite dusty. I think being exposed to all the fine dust led to the nasty case of bronchitis I had. Next time I go to Cambodia, I'm bringing masks to wear! (surgical type, not Halloween type)

Hey, did anyone knowingly eat rat while in Cambodia? The following is from an article I have just had published about the consumption of rats around the world. Just thought you might be interested.

“In the 1980’s the University of Reading ran a summer school for Rat Catchers. Students from around the globe spent twelve weeks learning the basics of rodent control in the class room and visiting farms around the district baiting, catching and trapping the rodents. They then returned home to pass on their skills to the locals. Today talents for catching them live are much in demand. In late 2008, Reuters reported that the price of rat meat had quadrupled in Cambodia creating a hardship for the poor who could no longer afford it. Cambodia also exports about a metric ton of rats daily to Vietnam as food. Flooding in the Mekong Delta is forcing rats to higher ground making them easier to catch. The rise in price has encouraged a return to rat catching, children are entering the labour market for rat catchers and are offering rat meat in the local markets.”

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

My link

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Hey, did anyone knowingly eat rat while in Cambodia?  The following is from an article I have just had published about the consumption of rats around the world. Just thought you might be interested.

“In the 1980’s the University of Reading ran a summer school for Rat Catchers. Students from around the globe spent twelve weeks learning the basics of rodent control in the class room and visiting farms around the district baiting, catching and trapping the rodents. They then returned home to pass on their skills to the locals. Today talents for catching them live are much in demand. In late 2008, Reuters reported that the price of rat meat had quadrupled in Cambodia creating a hardship for the poor who could no longer afford it. Cambodia also exports about a metric ton of rats daily to Vietnam as food. Flooding in the Mekong Delta is forcing rats to higher ground making them easier to catch. The rise in price has encouraged a return to rat catching, children are entering the labour market for rat catchers and are offering rat meat in the local markets.”

Rat gets a lot of attention (which is a good thing, as I'm a rat) but you have to think of rats and "rats". A lot of what is eaten in Asia as "rat" is bamboo rat, which is more like a big muskrat (is that the right spelling?) than it is a rat as we think of it.

When I was in Laos way back (early 90s) our guide in Xiangkhoung came back from the market with these big, buck toothed things in a cage.

He was really proud of them.

They got loose in the 4x4, and we sat around and drank beer Lao for 30 minutes while they captured them again. Those teeth are really good at chewing through bamboo cages.

On the plane they got loose again, and there was a general carnival of folks trying to catch them on this Chinese knock-off of a Russian 2 prop death trap.

I do hope they tasted well after all of that.

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  • 7 years later...

We didn't eat rat in Cambodia, but we did get to taste it in the Mekong Delta, on a night street food tour in Can Tho, Vietnam. It was grilled-ish and tasted fine, really. If I had gotten it without knowing what it was, I don't think I would think it was rat. We also ate snake on that same tour which, to tell you the truth, was not as tasty as rat. The tour, by the way, is free and highly recommended. You pay for your food but there's otherwise no charge and the guide is charming.

 

Also saw the same tarantula vendor in Phnom Penh. Would not, could not, try those.

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  • 1 year later...

My family lives in rural Cambodia and I will tell you now, we do not eat rats. Most people I know do not eat rat. Even my family in Ratanakiri do not eat rats, and they live practically in the jungle. The last time I remember someone catching rats was when I was in a refugee camp in Thailand, and a couple of Laotians came to our 'place' and asked if they can catch the rats that are plaguing us. So we let them, and they opened a bonfire in front of the house and cooked the caught rat right then and there. I would be shocked to see rats being sold in the countryside of Cambodia. We do eat crickets and other bugs though. They're pretty good, but we definitely do not tarantulas. They're for sale on the roadside, but it's mostly for show (to foreigners). 

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Blogger for A Travel Diary. A Cambodian food recipe and travel blog. 

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  • 1 year later...
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