Where do I start? The best holiday I’ve ever been on, the best holiday friends I was lucky enough to meet, amazing culture, activities, beaches and of course FOOD!
I spent April 2013 travelling around Cambodia and Vietnam visiting the beautiful Angkor Wat and Halong Bay, the breathtaking beaches of Sihanoukville and Nha Trang and experiencing the history of Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Min City. Before I went away I promised myself I would try as much food as possible and aim to taste the regional specialties aswell as doing a cookery class.
So I thought I would share a few of my food highlights from my trip starting with a homemade Cambodian feast cooked for us at a small school in Siem Reap. We ate on the floor of the classroom, which was located looking onto fields and streams about a 10 minute tuk tuk ride out of the town centre.
We had ginger chicken noodles, steamed rice, chicken curry in banana leaf, and my highlight – vegetable yellow curry. This was our first meal in Cambodia and every part of it was delicious – the vegetable curry was made up with potatoes, carrots, runner beans and aubergine – the closest flavour I have found since is the yellow curry recipe in Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. The sauce was very mild (I usually like spicier curries) but the flavours within it were so sweet and rich I was quite quickly reaching for seconds.
One element of the dinner I wasn’t keen on but Raqs loved, was the green mango with chilli salt. This is a popular snack in South East Asia (the salt enhances the flavour of the fruit) but for me was far too sour and had me pursing my lips and sucking in my cheeks until a big slurp of Cambodia Lager took the flavour away. Basically slices of green mango (like an un-ripe and extremely sour mango) are dipped into Bot muôi Ot which is a mixture of chilli, 1 part salt, 2 parts sugar and a few drops of lime juice. Later on in the trip this fruit snack became somewhat of a staple for our tour leader Dang and Raqs often mixed with yellow mango, pineapple and papaya.
The second stand out meal for me was in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam where i tried the speciality Elephant Ear Fish. This fish – named after its elephant-ear shape is only found along the Mekong Delta. The fish is deep fried whole (scales and all) and served standing up with crispy fresh salad, rice noodles, rice paper and a chilli dipping sauce.
Luckily the waitresses gave me a quick tutorial on how best to eat the fish and make some lovely rice paper rolls. The fish is similar to bass – white and delicate and flaked off the bone easily. I placed some salad – lettuce, coriander, mint and noodles onto the rice paper along with some fish including the crispy, slightly salty skin (my favourite part!) and then gently rolled is as snuggly as possible into the rice paper to make my very own spring roll. The dipping sauce is called Nuoc Cham and is a light but tangy dip – the perfect balance of the 4 “tastes” – sweet, sour, salty and hot – its made from lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and chilli and occasionally some cooks will add grated carrot, garlic and maybe some vinegar for extra acidity – i have made it once and think its best to start with the classic base and add as you like to taste. Each recipe I tried on holiday was different from the last, and, since i have been home and researched recipes there is a lot of variety depending on which of the 4 “tastes” you enjoy the most.
Whilst I live in hope that one day il be able to devour authentic elephant ear fish again i think if i try this at home for me and Elix il probably use bass or bream and gently fry whole with a light, batter (just a sprinkle of salt and flour) il let you know how it goes!