It took me some time to decide on what I really thought of Cambodia. Driving through the streets of Phnom Penh, I could not help but to think about country’s bloody history. The capital city and the country still bear the signs of cruel rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Both the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields leaves a visitor in a silent shock and disbelief of the ferocity of the crimes and atrocities committed on the local population in the second half of the 1970s.
Despite the recent bloody history, however, people are hopeful and welcoming to foreign visitors. Cambodians I came across made my trip there very interesting. They are very smiley people and happy to talk to you. I especially enjoyed the moments when locals tried to recommend what we should try from Khmer cuisine and what dishes should be on our table that day.
Khmer cuisine is the national cuisine of Cambodia. A usual meal consists of many smaller dishes, but with rice in the center. Rice and any products made from rice are eaten for breakfast as noodle rice soup, also as small snacks throughout the day. Rice is part of every family dinner and is also as a desert in the form of sticky rice. However for those how are not faint at heart, Khmer cuisine also offers a range of snacks like spiders (tarantulas preferably) and other crunchy crawlers that Westerners like to treat with pest control rather than dip in the guacamole salsa.
However, what my taste buds liked the most was amok. By using the term “amok” I do not mean a moment when a crowd goes crazy, but it is a name of the local dish made of rice and fish. I liked it so much, that I ordered it almost every day during my trip. Interestingly, different places had different ways of preparing it, hence every time I had amok, it was almost like a new culinary experience.
Amok is made of curried fish that is coated in a thick coconut milk with kroeung. The fish with paste is then placed in a form of a bowl made out of a banana leaf, and placed in a steamer. 20 minutes later the dish is ready to be served with local rice.
Steamy coconut fish in a bowl made out of a banana leaf, served with local rice and Angkor beer on the side was a perfect end to a day filled with sightseeing countless temples. It is definitely one of many reasons to go back to Cambodia.