Sawleaf, glutinous rice flour, shrimp paste

In the absence of being able to take a biking tour of the Cambodian countryside, we decide that a cooking course is in order. This particular course takes place at a hotel/villa setting outside the city proper, in a small village. We are picked up at our hotel by a tuk-tuk, and we trundle along pot-holed clay roads so hard and bumpy that we’re holding on to our chest so that it doesn’t bounce so hard that we end  up with muscle strain.

Suddenly, we’re in a breezy pavilion with our cooking implements, being introduced to the national dish of Cambodia – amok fish. We’ll also make green mango salad and sweet rice balls. With mortar and pestle we thump away at the lemongrass and shallots and shrimp paste and all the goodie bits that make up the amok spice mixture. We cook the fish and paste with coconut milk on a small camp stove. It smells delicious.

In the meantime, we’re peeling green mangos into straws, chopping tomato, and forming sticky glutinous rice balls around chunks of palm sugar.

After we’re done cooking, we sit together around a large table and wait for the dishes to arrive. They’re beautifully presented in banana leaf bowls, and everything is absolutely fantastic. The best food we’d had on the trip so far. Cambodian food is not as spicy as Thai food, so it was a good balance of spice and fish in the amok. Most of the time I don’t like glutinous objects, but since I can identify them, I eat them. The shredded coconut over the top completes it.

Following the class, we tour the village and meet a family who’s been helped by the classes and the hotel. The little girl is a spark of life, and she’s fascinated by the pictures she takes with us and by the holder for my hand sanitizer. She messes around with it until her mom chides her, but she is still waving happily as we go.

After learning about banana trees in the neighborhood an their various medicinal properties, we head into town and spend a long afternoon by the pool, reading and catching up on grad classes.

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