Saturday 1 September 2012

I ate a tarantula!

Feb12.2012 Phonm Penh,Cambodia.

Ahhhhhhh I've just eaten a big hairy black tarantula, in fact I ate two and Timmy ate one - all in the way of research! We're in Phnom Penh now, a crazy city, less tame than Siem Reap, they don't get quite as many tourists here but there's still tons to see and new tastes to experience. Traditionally the Cambodians ate lots of insects, particularly because they were a inexpensive source of protein. Ours were fried crispy and beautifully presented with chilli, cucumber frills and a little dish of pepper and lime juice, they were actually delicious once I concentrated on the flavour rather than the scary appearance!

We had terrific morning, after an early breakfast,around 7ish, (one has to start early here, it gets blisteringly hot around noon) we went to see the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda -impressive but nothing like as spectacular as the Royal Palace in Bangkok which was one of the most extraordinarily splendid and opulent collection of buildings I've ever seen.

The National Museum next door is quite small but has among other treasures a fine collection of Buddhas, many of which were rescued from Angkor when the civil war erupted.

After all that culture, we hopped into a moto as tuc tucs are called here and headed for the Central Market, this is where one gets a real understanding of how the people really live and eat beautiful fresh produce, a fantastic variety of fresh, dried and salted fish, shellfish, snails, snakes, frogs, even tortoises.

In the meat area, women butchers sell pork and chicken and a lot of the fish while men do the macho job of selling beef. The whole experience is not for the fainthearted, ever possible scrap of freshly killed meat and guts are sold and cooked in one way or another. The blood is coagulated to make a blood pudding, I didn't get the name, it's a tonal language that's really difficult to absorb even phonetically.

Tim was snapping away, some great photos including one of a chap shaving a pigs head to posh up his stall.

Beside every market there is an eating area with lots of food stalls and food sellers wandering in and out of the Market with bowls of congee or noodle soup for the stall holders. It's all incredibly inexpensive, each stall has one speciality that their reputation depends on.

We tasted lots of tempting little dishes, I particularly remember a little kebab of chicken livers with a tiny puffed up plastic bag of dipping sauce, crispy deep-fried shrimps in batter (still in their shells). I can't wait to try that with Ballycotton shrimps when I go home, there was steamed sweetcorn..... But our favourite was whole cuttlefish and huge shrimps grilled over charcoal served with a little plate of crispy cucumber, a kind of squash and lots of fresh herbs including mint, and coriander again it was served with several dips, segments of lime and local Kapok pepper.

Cambodians are sweet smiling people, eager to help. They often wear funny little check cotton base-ball hats with long wide peaks and a scarf that can cover the back of the neck and mouth to give added protection against sun and pollution.

There are a million scooters and motor bikes in the cities and an increasing number of cars, Lexus seem to be the car of choice for the increasingly affluent middle class. Believe it or not there are lots of Hummers here too, purring along side by side with cyclos and tuc tucs

The latter are different here, you climb in from the side rather than the back in Bangkok,they have two rows of seats facing each other, some times the seats are covered in satin with little frills behind, so cute. They all try to overcharge of course but it's only an odd dollar here and there. Dollars are accepted everywhere side by side with the local currency.

In the evening, we went to one of the city landmarks, the FCC Club (Foreign Correspondents Club) to have a drink, it overlooks the Mekong River and is a terrific place to people watch and sip a gin and tonic (Tim) or a mojito (me). The walls are covered with poignant photos of Cambodians who lost limbs by stepping on hidden landmines, still a huge problem here despite the brilliant ongoing work of MAP.

We hadn't the faintest idea where to eat so I consulted the dreaded Tripadvisor and found a place called Friends, one of several training restaurants run by an NGO of the same name ,it was absolutely brilliant with a great little shop next door selling lots of cool stuff made from recycled materials... The food was cooked and served by the teachers and students all of whom were originally street kids.
On our way back to the hotel we passed a packed Paddy Rice's Irish pub, beside a coffin shop overlooking the Mekong river, Irish pubs seem to be like Coca Cola, doesn't matter where you go you'll always find one!

We were staying in the Intercontinental Hotel, but it was almost 30 mins outside the city and so ghastly that we actually moved out and booked into Raffles Hotel close to the centre.

One morning, we took a long-tail boat on the Mekong river, nothing particularly interesting on this trip, most of the little bamboo and galvanise Cambodian houses are gradually collapsing into the river or being bulldozed to make way for villas and mansions of the nouveau riche. Many of the people that live by the river seem to just throw all the plastic rubbish out through their back window down onto the river bank. There's a very serious erosion problem for variety of reasons, partly because so much of the forests have been cut down and partly because they are constantly dredging the Mekong to sell the sand to Thailand. Closer to the city there is a little community of floating houses and lots of fishing of course, the fishermen use empty yellow vegetable oil bottles as floats for their nets.

On another night we went to a noodle shop where an energetic chap hand make the noodles in front of us, a fascinating but by far the best part of the meal!

This is also getting too long, next stop Luang Prabang in Laos..... This is a brilliant way to learn my geography!