Country #8 – Cambodia

IMGP0080Challenge Log:

#9           Date selected:    2/3/16   Date completed:  4/3/16

Country selected:  Cambodia

Dining Selection:              Cooked Own

What was on the menu:

  • Nhoam sach ko nung tirk krote. (Orange beef salad.)
  • Nem pakon. ( Shrimp roll.)
  • Amok ( Steamed coconut chicken.)

 Restaurant/Recipe address:

Beef Salad –

Shrimp Roll –

Amok (substitute chicken for fish) –

Thursday 3rd March 2016, 2.57pm

I’m pretty ecstatic that my next challenge is Cambodia!  It’s been way up on my list of places that I want to visit and I’ve been raving to my boyfriend about the food there for months!  I used to live up the road from a Cambodian restaurant that served the most exquisite food and I’ve been trying to convince Shane to go back there for quite a while now.  It’s quite a distance to where I live now though so we haven’t yet made it.  I think one of the major decisions of this challenge will be whether to go back there or try cooking something myself!

Either way, I couldn’t be more excited for this one and it’s a perfect choice for my first Asian country of the challenge!!

For those who don’t know much about Cambodia, it’s situated in South East Asia, wedged between Thailand and Vietnam (and we all know how delicious their food is right?!).  It’s a Kingdom with a predominantly Buddhist population and is the home to Angkor Wat, an amazing temple that’s made its way onto the World Heritage Site.

It’s a stunningly beautiful country but not without its problems.  It was bombed by the US for years during the Vietnam War and when there was a coup in 1970, the deposed king gave his support to his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge.  Lead by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge carried out the most horrible atrocities during the genocide of the mid-late 70s until a Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia brought the regime to a half.  An estimated one and a half to three million people died during this period and mass execution, torture, forced labour and malnutrition became a way of life for many.  If you want to know more, I’d highly recommend watching the film ‘The Killing Fields.”  The title refers to the mass graves that have since been uncovered – at least 20,000 of them.

As in other Southeast Asian countries, rice is the staple grain in Cambodia.  The Mekong River runs through the Eastern part of the country and thus Fish is an important part of the diet.  Local cursine also contains tropical fruits, soups and noodles with key ingredients including lemon grass, kaffir lime, soy and fish sauces, tamarind, curry ginger, oyster sauce, coconut milk and black pepper.  Wiki also states that “The country also boasts various distinct local street foods, such as fried spiders.”

Friday 4th March 2016, 9.58pm

I’m not sure why I keep picking the hot days to do the bigger dishes that take a long time to cook but Melbourne surprised itself with another 34 degree (Celsius) day today.  And I decided to do a three course meal!

You may have picked up that I was a bit excited about trying some Cambodian dishes and there was quite a large selection to choose from.  In the end I settled on a curry and two entrée style dishes.

The first was also the most foreign to me – Orange Beef Salad.  It’s a strange combination of textures and flavours.  Beef that is mixed with lots of lemon grass and chilli is deep fried until it’s crispy.  You then have a really sweet orange sauce with onions and capsicum in it over the top.  All of this rests on a bed of crispy lettuce.  You’re supposed to put mint on top also, however I was in the middle of preparing the other two dishes and forgot.  Was still mighty tasty but I could see how the mint could have helped cut through the sweetness of the sauce.

009 Orange Beef Salad
Nhoam sach ko nung tirk krote (Orange beef salad)

The recipe itself is pretty straight forward and easy enough to follow.  I ended up having to put a bit extra water in the orange sauce as it was a little thick for my liking but I almost forgot it altogether so measured pretty hurriedly in the first place so may have been out.  I’d also suggest using a good quality orange juice for this – even something you freshly squeeze yourself.  The juice I used didn’t quite have the zing that other juices have and it showed in the final product.  Avoid getting a juice with added sugar however as it is a sweet sauce to begin with.

My second dish was shrimp rolls.  I eat variations of these fresh rice paper rolls all the time but previous attempts at making them have been less than successful so I decided to have another go for this challenge.  I also wanted to add a seafood dish for Cambodia as so much of their cuisine is inspired by the sea.  As mentioned in previous posts, I’m not a huge fan of seafood but the ratios of seafood to non-seafood in this dish work for me so I decided to give it a go.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well I did at wrapping this time around!  I think the key (and where I have failed in the past) is to use water that isn’t too hot and to take the rice paper out of the water BEFORE you think it’s ready.  I was always worried that it would be undercooked and end up chewy and gross but it continues softening as you roll it and the vermicelli also helps to keep it moist.  The other key is not to overload each roll with filling.

009 Shrimp Roll
Nem pakon ( Shrimp roll)

These rolls are an amazing summer dish – so fresh and tasty!  I’ve been to restaurants in Melbourne where you can actually choose your ingredients and roll them at your table.  I think this ‘serve your own’ option could be a fantastic idea for a small informal dinner party.  I know from past experience that you can have a variety of fillings (though some are probably more traditional than the other).

My final dish is one that I have always associated with Cambodia.  From my recipe hunt online, it also seems to be the main dish in a lot of tourist orientated cooking classes in Cambodia!  I know it from when my brother and his partner brought me back an Amok spice mix when they visited the country several years ago.  I used it often and was a bit devastated when I finished the jar.  I remember noting down the ingredients on the label and trying to make it myself but didn’t use any kind of recipe and went by taste whenever I made any.

Therefore it came as quite a surprise when I looked up various recipes for Amok and discovered that traditionally, the curry is steamed in banana leaf!  I had always assumed that it was simmered in a pot on the stove as per many Indian style curries.  I wanted to see the difference.

My first challenge was finding a recipe.  Amok is usually fish, however it is often substituted for chicken and, given my aversion for the former, I decided to go with the poultry option.  The problem was that, in my mind, Amok should always have galangal in it.  Amok is the reason I first heard of galangal and I can’t think of a suitable substitute for this sweet, pungent herb.  Pretty much all of the decent chicken amok recipes didn’t use it and a vast majority of recipes were fish based.  In the end I settled on a recipe that called for fish, and instead used chicken as a substitution.   Whilst it technically didn’t stick to the rules of staying as faithful as possible to the recipe, I figured I stayed true to the other dishes on the menu for this challenge, and this one wasn’t too left of centre.

There is a note in the recipe I used suggesting that if you’re new to making amok, you use aluminium foil to aid in the wrapping of the meat in leaves (the recipe calls for banana leaves or collar green leaf).  I would also highly recommend this.  It makes it easier to wrap and prevents the curry from leaking out of any cracks in the leaves.  That said, still make sure the leaves are used – I found that the flavour seeped into the sauce and gave it an extra touch of complexity that you couldn’t get otherwise.  I also think the heat distribution may be out if you only used the aluminium.

009 Chicken Amok wrapped
Chicken Amok – straight out of the steamer

Be aware that this is a very sweet curry.  I debated about cutting down on the sugar listed in this recipe and I think you could probably reduce it a little.  It still needs quite a bit to balance the flavours though.  As I had eaten so much already, I didn’t serve the amok with rice, though I would recommend it as an accompaniment.  Something fresh like crunchy lettuce could also work quite well I think.

009 Chicken Amok Bowl
Chicken Amok – not the prettiest of dishes but full of flavour!

Overall I’m exceptionally pleased with how I did on these dishes.  All three were delightful and I highly recommend them.  There’s something about South East Asian cuisine that brings a fresh, delicate mix of flavours that are perfect for summer and I hope to get the opportunity to try some more before winter sets in here in Melbourne.

But, it’s time to pick another country…..


Back to Africa we go!


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