Posts Tagged With: street food

You Know You’re In Southeast Asia When…

There are quite a few things that smack you in the face when you’re visiting Southeast Asia. Things that make you think, “Whoa. I’m really here.” Things you’ve never seen anywhere else. Today’s blog post is devoted to a few of those things.

Number One: Monks. Everywhere. 
This was shot outside my apartment on a Saturday morning a few months back. Monks walk down our street to receive their daily alms. (Check out this great article published 16 years ago titled “Wats going wrong: monks in Phnom Penh”)
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Number Two: Hilarious misspellings.

Fried crap stick, anyone?

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Number Three: Weddings that take up half the street. 

Cambodians love parties, and there’s nothing better than a Cambodian wedding. The most common kind in the city are giant white tents pitched in the middle of the street and all traffic is diverted for at least three days. Here’s the kicker: all of the flowers you see in the photo below are real. Let that soak in for a second. The trends are changing here in Cambodia, and people are paying up to $10,000 for floral arrangements for their wedding. Not to mention the cost of the security guards to make sure a Range Rover doesn’t ram through the side of your tent on your special day. Check out this article published by AsiaLife which explains the skyrocketing cost of weddings in Cambodia that can easily run families a half a million dollars. IMG_5055

Number Four: Cambodian BBQ.
This is a true phenomenon of Southeast Asia. You grill a variety of meats over a live fire on your table top, and all the juices flow into a moat where you slowly construct the world’s most delicious soup. IMG_2790
Add a large group of friends and a few hours of conversation, and you’ve got the perfect evening.

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Number Five:
 The Mekong river.  IMG_5282

Starting in China and ending in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, it is the twelfth longest river in the world.

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From houses to house boats to floating bed and breakfasts, the Mekong is the roaring neighbor in the backyard of Phnom Penh.IMG_5323IMG_2859

For $15 an hour, you can hire out a private boat and cruise the Mekong for sunset.

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Number Six: The night markets.      IMG_5156

Psar Reatrey, which means “night market” in Khmer, is mainly aimed at tourists, but who can stay away from the glowing lights and low-priced butt pads? (No, seriously. Look at the left-hand side of the photo below.)IMG_5157

Number Seven: Street food.
It’s hard to walk the streets of Phnom Penh and not be tempted by some strange culinary delight you’ve never experienced before. I thought I’d seen it all, then I found ice cream in deep-fried alphabet letters. IMG_5158

Number Eight: The bugs.IMG_5167

Deep fried bugs are a delicacy in Cambodia. Just bring along a friend who tries them a split second before you do. IMG_5168

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Afternoon In Phnom Penh, With New Eyes

 

Hi everyone! I can’t believe how fast this year has gone. It is almost April… we have spent eight months in Cambodia. In some ways, it feels like we have just arrived. In other ways, I feel like we’ve been here for years.

It is almost Khmer New Year, which spans from April 13 – 16. We have a week off school, and will be spending some time soaking up the beauty of the Cambodian & Thailand coast. But before we get there, I’ve got to share a few more special moments from our daily life with you.

This batch of photos comes from my dad‘s camera. (Thanks, Dad!)When he was visiting back in January, we had a blast exploring Phnom Penh together. Even though I had been living here for only six months, I had already viewed so much of my surroundings as “normal”. When my Dad came, however, he was astounded by the slightest things! He took lots of photos, asked lots of questions, and enjoyed every moment.

I invite you to view an afternoon in Phnom Penh, as seen from new eyes.

IMG_2079Weddings. Birthdays. Funerals. In Phnom Penh, a celebration normally means a giant traffic jam, as all events are held inside huge tents that are constructed in the middle of the street. As I was frustratingly inching my way through traffic, my dad snapped a great photo of the entry to the tent. Looks like a great party! The women wear beautiful dresses, and spend lots of time making their hair and make-up perfect. Sean and I are going to a celebration next weekend, held by a Cambodian friend of ours in his village. I will be sure to take pictures for you!

 

IMG_2090We got lunch at my favorite counter in the Russian Market. They are fresh noodles, salad, coconut milk, a tangy vinegar sauce, and slices of taro-filled egg rolls! It is truly divine. My dad washed it all down with a fresh-squeezed orange juice.


IMG_2127As our food journey continued, we came across a street vendor I had never seen before. We ordered two of his sweet treats, which turned out to be circular pancakes with different fillings.

 

IMG_2129And then we got smoothies. You can never have enough smoothies. These were from the top floor of Sorya Mall. You’ve got to take a break from the heat and slip into the A/C of the mall!

IMG_2098Back in the markets, we had another round of street food. These are gelatinous fried balls, filled with a coconut milk mixture. You dip them in a tangy-spicy sauce. I absolutely love them. My sister and I were staring with such intent as they had just come out of the deep-frier. You couldn’t touch them—they were so hot they could scald your skin.

IMG_2112Inside Central Market (Psar Thmei), my sister scouts for earrings. I took her to my favorite vendor. It’s funny how when you make friends with a seller, and give them repeat business, the price automatically drops from $8 to $2.
IMG_2116If you know what these are, please leave a comment! They looked like snakes in water. They were writhing all over each other.

IMG_2118Typical produce vendors in the market. This is where I generally buy all of my fruits and veggies.

IMG_2124A woman selling her jackfruit. (Which tastes like bubblegum!)

IMG_2125Bugs for sale. Really. Lots and lots of bugs.

 

IMG_2102To polish off our day of wonder and gluttony, we headed to get some Cambodian BBQ. It was our first time there, and we had no idea how to work the grills. We tried our best, and had quite the feast!

We actually went back to the Cambodian BBQ a week ago with our friends, Anna and Chris. Anna snapped a much better photo of us that actually shows you what the Cambodian BBQ is supposed to look like:

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Look at all that meat! And all those vegetables. Yum, yum, yum!

There is so much that is great about Cambodia. But I really love the food. (Except maybe the edible bugs and snakes. Maybe…)

 

 

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beijing Street Food

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. – JRR Tolkien

Aside from the views and outdoor recreation, food is definitely my favorite thing about traveling. When city-traveling, it’s all about the food. In the countryside, food takes a backseat to the activities, but it’s always an adventure planning the next place to eat. I’m not a foodie—I have no desire to taste quail eggs or snake venom—but I want to get a feel for a place through the food.

Our last day in Beijing was a hedonistic journey through the narrow, ancient alleyways of the central part of the city. We were on a mission to eat some street food.

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We took the metro into the old part of the town. When we climbed out from underneath the ground, it was as if I stepped into every movie and every picture I had ever seen about China while growing up. It was so “Chinese”! I felt it in the colors, the smells, the people, the sounds, everything.

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Red lanterns covered the streets. We were clearly in the busy part of town, where the socializing, the eating, and the shopping happens.

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We found what seemed to me like a cross between a gourmet and a traditional grocery store. It was a tiny market with aisles of whole grains, spices, dried herbs, noodles, rices. Rice was pretty much the only thing I could identify. Ice bought two kilos of walnuts; they were cheaper and better quality than what we can find here in Phnom Penh.

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Lining up to purchase meat for supper.

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This is a traditional Beijing sweet. It is caramelized sugar that coats things like grapes, cherries, and oranges.

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Then we came across fresh yogurt. For 3 RMB ( fifty cents), you get a fresh pot of yogurt and a straw that you stick through the paper on top. You stay at the shop until you finish the yogurt, and hand the pot back to the vendor when you are finished. I paid them an extra ¥2  to take the pot with me. It now houses our toothbrushes.
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Then, we got to the Hutong neighborhood. Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys that reach upwards of 400 years old. It was my favorite part of our whole trip. Many of the hutongs had converted store fronts to house cafes, pubs, or accessory shops. It was a walker’s delight!

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Fresh oysters with garlic paste, roasted over the coals for you. I had one to go. It was delicious!
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For the past three days, I had been smelling something foul on the streets of Beijing. It was somewhat sweet smelling, but also smelled, honestly, like feces. I didn’t really believe people were defecating on the street, so I thought it better not to bring it up to Ice. When we were in the hutongs, she pulled me over to a street vendor, and immediately I smelled the fecal smell again. Believe it or not, it was tofu. Ice told me I would like it, and she was right. It’s a form of fermented tofu, or “stinky tofu”. I really can’t do the explanation justice, so I’m just going to quote Wikipedia here:

Stinky tofu (   in Chinese, Pinyin: chòudòufu): A soft tofu that has been fermented in a unique vegetable and fish brine.The blocks of tofu smell strongly of certain pungent cheeses, and are described by many as rotten and fecal. Despite its strong odor, the flavor and texture of stinky tofu is appreciated by aficionados, who describe it as delightful. The texture of this tofu is similar to the soft Asian tofu from which it is made. The rind that stinky tofu develops from frying is said to be especially crisp, and is usually served with soy sauce, sweet sauce, and/or hot sauce.”

I can’t wait to go back and get some more stinky tofu!

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A Starbucks in  a converted hutong.

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This was a delicious treat. She’s making a savory omelet, which will then be placed on the crunchy discs on the left.

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It’s then folded up and you munch on this delicious, salty, savory omelet sandwiched between a crisp, oily fried crust.

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Later on, in the bathroom….

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A very popular bakery, which is apparently endorsed by some very famous people.

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We kept eating. I had deep fried vegetables on the left, and Ice had cow stomach, on the right.

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The doorway of a cafe.

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Looking down food street of the hutong.

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Just like China town in the States…

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Cotton candy.

And that was it! At 10:00, we were ready for bed. We had to fly out bright and early the next morning, so we headed back to our hotel.

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In the Hong Kong airport, where we had a layover, I spotted Astronomy magazine! My dad has an advertisement in there for his business, Obsession Telescopes, and a great friend of ours is a columnist in there. All the way in Hong Kong, a memory of home!

In the end, I really loved China, and not just for the food. The people were friendly, there was so much history, and the city felt almost like New York. I’d love to go back, next time with Sean. I never even got to see Tiananmen Square or the Great Wall!

Check back soon for more Cambodian rainforest adventures!

Categories: China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beijing In October: Part One

One of the perks of international teaching is the conferences. Our school is an IB school (International Baccalaureate), which means they prescribe to a philosophy and practice that is shared in all IB schools worldwide. Not only is it a great program, but they offer first-class conferences in every corner of the globe.

It’s my first year teaching Language B, which is English as a second language; normally I teach traditional Western “English” class, where you read novels and write essays and such. This year I do both, in grades 8-10. So, I was sent to Beijing to attend an IB conference on teaching Language B.

I couldn’t have been more psyched! China! I have read about it all my life, seen it in films and the media, and certainly obsessed over the Americanized version of their food. (General Tso, I’m talking to you.)

I handed my passport over to my school, who set me up with a Chinese visa. It took about a week or so, and I think the price tag wasn’t cheap. Americans have more detailed paperwork to get into China; as my Chinese friend told me, “Two big countries who each think they’re the most important.” Even when Sean and I had a layover in Guangzhou, the American passports took a lot longer to process for our transit hotel. At least it wasn’t like the Sri Lankan border guard, who told me Americans like to start wars, and we should stop picking fights with so many people. (I told him I agreed, and could I please have my passport stamped, sir?)

But really. China. Beijing, no less. The capital. With only four days to spend, and  a full-time conference to enjoy, I had my hands full with anticipation and possible plans.

I went with another teacher from school, Ice, who is actually from Shanghai. She has lived in Cambodia for the past 20 years, and is married to a Cambodian. She speaks Mandarin (Chinese), Khmer, and English. She also teaches Language B like me, but for Mandarin. We went to the same conference together—I had a great time traveling with her.

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Unfortunately, when we woke up the first morning, the sky was a bit, um, “foggy”. The pollution was bad. I was bummed out—I knew China had pollution, but seeing it out of a ten-story window made it seem all the more real. Luckily, of the four days we were there, this was the worst. The rest of the days had vibrant blue skies, no joke. It was really gorgeous. And, even on this bad day, when we were on the street, we forgot all about the gray-tint of the sky.

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The school where the conference was held had an AMAZING lunch. I mean, look at this! This is their school lunch! I would enroll as a student here just so I could come for lunch every day. I really loved their salads; none of them were with leafy lettuces like we’re used to in America, but instead with seaweeds, diced vegetables, tofu chunks, and amazing savory dressings. They did have a lot of deep fried things, as you can see. Just look at this picture I can count four different deep friend foods: sesame-crusted sweet potato, fried shrimp, fried fish, and fried chicken in a sweet and sour sauce.

After our conference Ice had made plans for us to meet up with her friend who works at Phoenix TV in Beijing. It is one of the few private broadcasters that is allowed to air in mainland China. We went out to a really nice Chinese restaurant, where I never even opened a menu. Ice and her friend ordered everything. And, man, did they order.IMG_8122

The craziest part for me was that everything came at a different time. After the first dish arrived, I thought, “Oh, wow. That’s a lot of food.” Then, the second dish came, and I thought, “Whoa, I shouldn’t have eaten so much of that first dish.” Then the third, fourth, and fifth dishes arrived. And we sat there, for three hours, until we ate all of it. Oh my goodness was it divine. We had mushroom salad (on the plate with the cucumbers on the left), a salad made entirely out of different mushrooms I had never seen before in my life. We had deep-fried tofu (so much better than any I’ve had in the States). We had an entire fish, with the head intact (Ice ate the head so I didn’t have to worry about tackling it myself). We had pepper chicken baked in a clay dish (with whole chunks of marinated ginger and garlic). Also, not pictured, was a giant hot-pot of cabbage and pork soup. There was so much soup in the hot-pot, man, that Ice’s friend sent it back to be warmed up about ninety minutes through the meal. Sometimes, weeks later, I dream about that night.

And if we weren’t stuffed to the seams, I had smiled when we passed the Starbucks earlier in the evening, so they decided it would be great to polish off our meal with a decaf latte.

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See, we don’t have Starbucks in Cambodia, which isn’t a big deal, but the novelty of seeing different Starbucks around the world is always cool to me. We sat for another few hours and talked about American customs versus Chinese customs, and whether or not Starbucks is as popular in America as it is in China. I said, “Maybe, but it certainly isn’t how people traditionally drink their coffee.” Then I explained to them the concept of the diner, and bottomless coffee.

The next morning, we struck out at 7am for the second day of our conference.

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Breakfast on the streets of Beijing. So much meat, so early in the morning! This was the city of food, I tell you.

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Donuts? (Notice the heavy coats; we were there mid-October, and it was chilly! Around the 40’s or 50’s. Look, when you’re coming from the 90’s of Cambodia, that’s cold!)

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It reminded me of New York City.

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More delicious street food.

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I loved all the bicycles everywhere. Every major road had a bike lane, and we saw people on bicycles everywhere.

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It wouldn’t be China if there weren’t the ultra-modern in immediate juxtaposition with the traditional.

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And then we passed a McDonald’s.  (Something we also don’t have in Cambodia!) I have to admit, I did get a McFlurry one night. And in case you were wondering, it looked just the same on the inside as an American McDonald’s does. What was different about it? If you remember, Kuwait had the McArabia, but here China has the “McExpress”. It’s that window on the left side, where you can walk up to the counter and order espresso drinks, ice cream, or apple pies.

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Here was the school where our conference was held. It seemed really large to me—especially in comparison with NISC, which only has 490 students! Our school is teeny tiny next to this giant.

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Here I am outside the gates of the school. It was the “High School Affiliated To Renmin University of China”. I still haven’t figured out how they abbreviate it…

The second night, Ice and I had plans to meet up with a girl I met through the conference who lived in Beijing and worked at the Canadian International School of Beijing. Ice and I took the subway to another part of the city, and walked around for a bit.IMG_8144

We ended up in the fancier, shopping mall area. I loved the balloons you could buy in between stops at H&M and Ray Ban.

We accidentally ended up walking through the embassy district, which was devoid of any street life whatsoever. We were pretty bummed out, and had to meet up with the girl from the conference. Honestly, if Ice wasn’t Chinese, I would have starved that night. She was able to find a minuscule sign hidden behind some trees that said, “Soup House” in Chinese. She pulled me inside, and we warmed our frozen bellies with delicious 75 cent soup. IMG_8145

Ice had hers with beef, and I just had noodles, vegetables, peanuts, and egg. Sounds weird, I know, but I ate it all!
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You eat it with both chopsticks, to pick up the whole bits, and a spoon for the liquid. Honestly, it was simple, it was unexpected, and it was delicious. Finding those out-of-the-way places on accident is what makes good memories. Ice and I had fun  in the back of that noodle shop!

The next day, the final day of the conference, I had to take another photo of my meal…IMG_8149So what? I’m a little obsessed with food. Again, look at the amazing salads. On the left next to the broccoli were gigantic black seaweed pieces that were delicious. I swear, if I tried to cook any of this at home, it would turn out a disgusting mess. But in China, magic happened in the school cafeteria. (Check out the whole shrimp in the top right!)

I do have one more post for you about China, and it was the final night of our stay. We went to the city center, where the hutongs are. The hutongs were narrow, winding streets and alleys over 400 years old. Many of the store fronts now house restaurants, take-away food, cute shops, with live musicians on every corner. Many of the streets are closed off to cars and only allow foot traffic. Men are engraving names on pieces of rice. People are doing magic tricks. You can buy a silk dress at one store, and a t-shirt of Mao Tse Tung at the next. It was a riot, a party every night. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Categories: China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toul Tom Poung, The Russian Market

I have a new addiction. In Kuwait, I satisfied my desire for adventure by scouring the dusty city for new restaurants on crumbling side streets. In Phnom Penh, I barely have to leave my neighborhood. I have the Russian Market.

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Here is the outside of the market from across the street.

The Russian Market has restaurants, mechanics, souvenirs , clothing, tailors, instruments, cafe, cleaning supplies, electronics, hair salons, I can’t even begin to fathom what the Russian Market DOESN’T have. It’s more than a “market”, it’s a maze of vendors, smells, sights; a feast for the senses. I am addicted to exploring every crevice!

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The Western name is the Russian Market due to the large numbers of Russian people who apparently shopped here in the 1980’s. In Khmer, it is called Toul Tom Puong. It’s such a great neighborhood to live in—the only Western thing surrounding the market is a  KFC. (We’ve never been, either, thank you very much!) The grey area of the map is a covered building, or series of buildings, I suppose, with mazes of vendors all throughout. Inside it’s hot and sticky, so tie your hair up in a ponytail, roll up your sleeves, and let’s go inside!

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As you can see, people are eating right next to the clothing vendors. Me? I’m obsessed with the Khmer coffee. I get them every weekend, sometimes twice a day if I’m feeling particularly thirsty (or drowsy). I should really do a separate post on Khmer coffee, because it is out of this world. For between 35 cents to $1, you can get the most delicious iced coffee with sweetened-condensed milk, fresh milk, or just black if that’s how you like it.

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A typical drink vendor—she is selling anything from avocado smoothies, soda, shave ice, and of course, iced coffee. You can see the guy eating on the left, which was something cool I found out yesterday while I was exploring. You can sit at any vendor you like, while having placed another order with a different vendor. They will bring you your food. Yesterday I had delicious stir-fried noodles with vegetable and egg while sitting next to a man who had food and drinks from three different vendors in front of him!

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You really can buy anything in the Russian Market….

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Some sections of the market can be pretty touristy, which is fun, too. After we get our first paycheck I think I’m going to check out the clothing and woven goods. This is also the bartering atmosphere, so you’ve got to have a price in mind and fight for it, while being willing to compromise. I kind of enjoy the bartering experience, to be honest! It’s a game, and I love practicing my Khmer!
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Another food vendor. This woman specializes in, well, I’m not too sure, but I think noodles with a variety of meats. You’d be surprised all the choices and options they have behind the glass cases—I even saw someone eating Spam on their noodles yesterday!

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We cracked up when we saw this shirt—it was something people in Kuwait often said, “Same same.” It generally means that both options are equally good, or that the difference between two things is insignificant. IMG_6492

But sometimes things aren’t truly “same same”. Same same can also mean “as you wish”, “ok”, “I heard you”, or ‘same same’ will be said when two things aren’t the same at all. It really depends on the context!

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I love to buy my produce at the Russian Market—it’s so much cheaper than the Western grocery store, and I’ve even found it to be fresher at times.

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You can buy Revlon make-up in florescent, fancy shops, or you can get your eggs and chicken feet alongside your Channel knock-off wardrobe. (Can you spy the Chicago Bulls shirt, too?)

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I have eaten inside the market quite a few times, but Sean is still warming up to the idea. We have yet to get sick, and you can have the most delicious, fresh, authentic Asian food for only $1!

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Like I said, I love the produce. I am taking Khmer lessons, so am able to complete transactions entirely in Khmer! I don’t know the names of all the vegetables, though, so pointing works just as well.

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We don’t buy the meat, though. Would you?

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The woman in the center is selling eggs! Once you become comfortable in the heat and the crowds, it becomes a real treat to do your shopping here. I much prefer it!



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Outside the market there are also a plethora of vendors. This picture is comically bad timing, but I wanted to show you this strange food that we tried once.

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It was like a crunchy crepe—almost like a waffle cone flavor and texture—filled with a sweet creme and MAYBE orange shavings. The orange stuff was either a flavored coconut, or a citrus fruit. We loved them!

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I had Sean hold my snack while I snapped a picture. You can see a guy selling grilled corn on the cob in the background.

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At night, the market shuts down and becomes a series of grill cafes. You can walk along and choose your restaurant based on what you see them grilling. We can’t wait to try the seafood—I am in love with their prawns here!

IMG_6608Here you go, my favorite picture. This picture is from last weekend. I went out to the market and purchased all this produce, the eggs, the rice, the tofu, the avocados, a half kilo of garlic, sliced ginger, precut veggies… all for under $7. We ate like kings! I can’t stress how excited I am to have visitors here to Cambodia so that I can treat them like royalty… not to mention guide them through the jungle that is the Russian Market.

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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