Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “April, 2014”

In Photos: Delicious Cambodian Food

Everyone has heard of Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. But when it comes to Cambodia, people often scratch their heads and ask, ‘What food do you eat there?’ Let me tell you, delicious Khmer food.

Cambodian food is a well kept secret of South East Asia. Sweet and salty, hot and tangy, sour and hot, deep fried or served fresh, every bite is a surprise — a delight for every palate. Thanks to the close proximity with neighbours Vietnam, Thailand and Laos; Cambodian food often draws from their culinary cultures. You’ll find Vietnamese Pho being sold by street vendors or Thai noodles in a nearby eatery but the taste is just so unique. Since the country was under French rule for a while, coffee and bread can be found everywhere. It’s a perfect little mix I tell you – drawing from Asia and Europe.

The one thing I loved about Khmer food is that never is a dish served without condiments. Every table has a basket which contains fish sauce, hot sauce, pickles or a lime-salt-pepper combo and sometimes even fresh herbs. It’s these condiments which bind the dishes together, giving it a wholesome taste. Rice is a staple so you can expect it to be served with any vegetable or meat you order.

I’ll let the pictures seduce you… to try Khmer food once in your life…

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Delicate spring rolls with mint and rice noodles, served with a dip

Delicate spring rolls with mint and rice noodles, served with a dip

Fried pork spring rolls and french fries

Fried pork spring rolls and french fries

Fish Amok, a Khmer specialty. It's a souffle or steamed fish preparation served with rice.

Fish Amok, a Khmer specialty. It’s a souffle or steamed fish preparation served with rice.

Lok lak. Sliced beef tossed in brown sauce served with rice.

Lok lak. Sliced beef tossed in brown sauce served with rice.

Delicious chicken noodle soup. A light broth served with greens

Delicious chicken noodle soup. A light broth served with greens

Egg noodles tossed with beef and greens.

Egg noodles tossed with beef and greens.

Wok fried pork noodles with greens. Tastes best with a side of chilly

Wok fried pork noodles with greens. Tastes best with a side of chilly

Cambodian breakfast at the hotel. Rice with beef and pork, served with fried egg.

Cambodian breakfast at the hotel. Rice with beef and pork, served with fried egg.

What the locals drink - Angkor draught beer. Perfect to sip and jot down travel notes

What the locals drink – Angkor draught beer. Perfect to sip and jot down travel notes

Pancakes from a street vendor. Crispy, served with cream and coconut shavings. A perfect dessert.

Pancakes from a street vendor. Crispy, served with cream and coconut shavings. A perfect dessert.

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The smell of charred meat permeates the evening air as you sit down at a local eatery sipping a mug of local beer or cut through the layers of a heavenly fish souffle. Khmer food has something for everybody. I can’t wait to go back.

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Finally flipping the Tortilla right!

My past experiments with the Spanish Tortilla (Omelette) or Frittata haven’t been very successful I must admit. So, when I thought of trying my hand at a Tortilla once again this afternoon, I was slightly skeptical. It’s always the tossing you know, where I mess up that is. Once I even remember the tortilla just crumbled and looked like massacred scrambled eggs.

However, armed with new found confidence, I decided to have a go at it. The basic difference between the two is that while a Frittata has only eggs, a Tortilla is traditionally made with eggs and potatoes. And the fact that the former is eaten in Italy while the latter in Spain. One can make a Tortilla or Frittata with various meats or vegetables but I stuck to the traditional albeit a slight variation!

Anyway, once the smell from the kitchen drew out my sister from her pile of books, I knew I was on the right track. Soon it was time for the FLIP. Scary as it might sound, I marched head on and boy, was I stunned! It was perfect! The tortilla didn’t crumble, fall or break. It stood proud. So go ahead, try and try before you succeed!

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Piping hot! Don’t be fooled, it’s not a pizza!

Ingredients
4 eggs
2 tbsp milk
2 small potatoes (peeled and chopped)
1 small onion (chopped)
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
A good lug of olive oil
Grated processed cheese (feta tastes best though) to garnish
Coriander to garnish

Method
Pour most of the oil in a small pan and heat. When sizzling add the garlic, onion and potatoes. When the mix turns to a nice golden colour, add salt, pepper and the dried herbs.

In the meantime beat the eggs with the milk. Once the mix has cooked through, add the remaining oil, pour the eggy sauce over and cover the pan with a lid. Now, the burner must be on sim as the egg slowly cooks and rises. It will take a bit of time so be patient.

After a few minutes, take off the lid and shake the pan to see if the bottom has cooked through.

Now comes the hard part! Be brave. If I could do it, so can you. Cover the top of the pan with a plate and FLIP! The tortilla will come out on plate. Now just slide it back into the pan and cover with lid again. In two minutes, the egg mixture will rise up further to form a firm texture.

Put it on a serving plate, garnish with the grated cheese and coriander. Serve hot!

Stumbling upon the Royal Cemetery in Bangkok

Bangkok is only about two hours away from Pattaya. Take the highways, drive fast and you’re there even earlier. I had chosen to stay near Jomtien beach, away from the hustle and bustle of South Pattaya. After all, when you’re in Thailand for three days, a stopover really before you head to Cambodia, you really want to dive into the pristine blue sea and swim away all tensions.

The temple entrance

The temple entrance

But, I did decide to head to Bangkok for a day just to see what the city was about. Ever since I swayed to ‘Shall we dance’ from The King and I, the name Siam conjured up images of Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr dancing away to their hearts content. But that was as a child when Hollywood had captured my heart. I’ve always been eager to go to Thailand, not because I love the cuisine, but also to discover the beautiful places.

If I’m honest, the first impression of Bangkok really didn’t set my heart on fire like I had hoped it would. I did the touristy stuff – visiting the Royal Palace, the Emerald Buddha, Golden Buddha… but it was an unexpected discovery which made my day. It was hot and humid and I did feel dehydrated. But just the fact that I walked into the Royal Mausoleum on the one day in the year when it’s open to the public according to the Lunar calendar (without any prior knowledge) made me smile. This is what travelling is about isn’t it?

So peaceful

So peaceful

Gothic architecture in Thailand

Gothic architecture in Thailand

Not a must-see attraction, the Wat Ratchabopit, or Royal Cemetery, is peaceful and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle cities are associated with. Located just a few minutes away from the Royal Palace, the peace welcomes you. The memorials dedicated to Thai royalty are so varied. From Gothic to Indian to Thai, the architecture of the different memorials seem to have been inspired from many styles. When I walked around the memorials, I was alone. No tourists, no cameras, just me. There is no entrance fee but you do get asked ‘how did you find out about this place?’ And you say, ‘by chance’ with a smile.

The main temple inside was shut for the public till 2pm because of prayers. Apparently there were a lot of visitors early morning because the Royal couple had come to offer prayers to the ancestors.

Inside the temple complex

Inside the temple complex

Now let me tell you something. Everything yellow you see in the complex is gold. Yes, it’s not coloured in gold paint to impress tourists.

The gold shining in the sun

The gold shining in the sun

Once you enter the main temple, you’re left amazed at the art work because everything is done by hand. The doors have inlaid work in pearls, gold statues of Buddhas in different postures are found around the temple. Go inside and the red carpet is so lush. It’s so quiet there that one can spend hours just sitting and gazing. See the monks talking to youngsters as they try to imbibe their words of wisdom.

It’s always wonderful to discover something new and to stumble upon something so beautiful by chance, brings me great joy.

Details on the walls, all by hand

Details on the walls, all by hand

The ceiling inside

The ceiling inside

Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Witnessing an Angkor Wat Sunrise

The alarm went off at 4am sharp, the shrill sound penetrating the heavy air. It was pitch dark as I rubbed my eyes, glancing out the first floor window. The street outside may have been quiet but two windows on the otherside of the guesthouse lit up along with mine. I knew I couldn’t be the only one. There are few people awake at this hour. Newspaper vendors, students cramming for examinations and those who’ve dreamt of Angkor Wat for a long time.

Just before day break

Just before day break

I had been dreaming of going to Cambodia for ages now. For a history junkie like me, I would read anything I could lay my hands on about the country. So, as I got up to get dressed, I couldn’t get rid off the big smile on my face. I would finally get to see the gorgeous temple basking in the morning sun.
Every iconic Angkor Wat photograph shows the temple and it’s reflection in a lotus pond with different colours of the sky in the background. Well, it may sound cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to be there and photograph it myself.
As I made my way out of the guesthouse, a dim light flickering in the darkness led me to the tuk tuk. The guesthouse was located in a bylane but as you made your way to the main street, you realised just how many people have the same dream.

Deemed a World heritage site, Angkor is mindbogglingly gigantic. It’s not only about Angkor Wat but countess other temples which showoff the rich complex architecture of the Khmer empire from about 9th to the 15th century. What’s fascinating is with the Brahmanism and Buddhism spreading to far off shores from India, Cambodia and many South East Asian countries have imbibed Indian influences with their own. Thus, while you have the epic Ramayana in India, Cambodia has Reamker. Indian mythology has found a balance in Khmer expressions everywhere in Angkor.

The sky changes colour

The sky changes colour

When you visit for the first time, the enormity of the area hits you. In the darkness of the early morning as you drive by the moat around Angkor Wat, you realise its late. Because there are thousands behind and ahead of you. With flashlights, DSLRs, tripods and steaming cups of coffee, travellers, photographers, history buffs — they all made their way to the pond.

Look at the crowd!

Look at the crowd!

And we waited. The sun was supposed to rise at 6.05am. Very slowly the sky began to change colour. From a dark midnight blue to pale purple, from orange to red and then light blue. At one point it seemed the colours of the sky came together to form a unique hue. The shadow of the famous temple  reflected in the water. It was so magnificent that I didn’t have words to describe it. I let my eyes witness the sunrise. As the darkness gave way to morning light, the grandeur of Angkor Wat became even more prominent to the naked eyes.

Isn't that a glorious morning?

Isn’t that a glorious morning?

It’s only during the equinox that the sun rises directly above the central temple tower. I missed that unfortunately by a few days but as the sun slowly began to rise from the right of the central tower, there were shouts. No one wanted to turn away. Probably more than a million photographs would have been taken by the numerous cameras around that early morning.

A morning view from the entrance

A morning view from the entrance

As I made my way back to the guesthouse to sleep a little bit more (I would explore more of the ancient temple a couple of hours later) I couldn’t stop smiling. I finally saw what I had been dreaming about for so many years.

The sun shows itself, finally

The sun shows itself, finally

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