One of the most tangible ways to immerse yourself in a countries culture is through its food. One of my favorite shows, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations re-affirms this belief. Each and every time I watch Tony search out the best cuisine in various corners of the globe I am left mesmerized – not to mention hungry.
Keeping this in mind, when I heard from a housemate about a local Cambodian Cooking Class hosted by the travel guide favorite, Frizz restaurant, I knew I had to take up the opportunity to get a true taste of Khmer cooking.
The half day course only set me back $15, and it well exceeded my expectations.
The cooking instructor was a young local Cambodian guy, probably in his late twenties. He had enough energy and pizazz to not only teach, but entertain a group of six hungry women.
We began our day at 9am by taking a tuk tuk to a very local (i.e. no tourists in sight) food market. Our instructor weaved in and out of the busy market stalls, taking the time to stop and give a quick lesson regarding each of our newly purchased ingredients. The highlight of this excursion ended up being a brief lesson in Asian herbs in which we were each given a sprig of Kefir Lime leaf, spearmint, lemongrass and Thai basil amongst others – and were told to crush it up in the palm of our hands, take a whiff and describe the anticipated flavors.
After that lovely awakening of the senses, I was abruptly brought back to reality when we approached the protein portion of our grocery list. I ended up taking away a personalized souvenir, a fish-blood splattered t-shirt – a result of the still flopping, fresh as ever tiger fish having his head aggressively chopped off right before my eyes.
Fresh coconut milk…
The slightly traumatizing fish market experience only subdued my appetite momentarily. By the time we’d arrived at the rooftop open-air kitchen, I’d set my sights on the fresh spring roll ingredients and was ready to get cooking.
Using iodized salt to release the starch from the taro root spring roll contents.
Rolling the spring rolls requires careful attention.
Despite my normal distaste for fried foods, these fried spring rolls were so fresh, accompanied by the most delicious, scratch made chili peanut sauce – I couldn’t pass up treating myself to a few.
After we finished our spring roll appetizer, it was time to get started on the main dish – Cambodia’s famous fish amok. Most Cambodians will tell you that fish amok is Cambodia’s national dish, a food that they are very proud to claim. In the most basic preparation, amok is coconut fish steamed with herbs and spices in a banana leaf bowl. It is normally served with rice. In this cooking class we went through the most basic steps including crushing the herbs spices and shrimp paste with a mortar and pestle (no food processors allowed).
The finished product – not the best presentation, my banana leaf bowl construction needs a little work – but it sure was delicious!