We em­bark on a street food tour of Siem Reap

Tack­ling Siem Reap’s street food cul­ture may be a daunt­ing prospect for a new vis­i­tor to Cam­bo­dia. For that, there is Siem Reap Food Tours.

Time Out Singapore - - Inside - By Joyce Koh

The duo has spent years get­ting to know Kh­mer food, cul­ture and lan­guage, and the re­sults paid off

Af­Ter Three dAys in Siem Reap, we were about to give up. We tried ask­ing lo­cals (they pointed us to­wards the touristy Pub Street for pad Thai) and we tried any stall that looked promis­ing, but a mi­nor bout of food poi­son­ing later, it seemed that the Cam­bo­dian street food scene is beyond the grasp of the non-Kh­mer-speak­ing tourist. Thank­fully, we booked a tour with Siem Reap Food Tours for our fourth day.

Founded by Cam­bo­dian ex­pats Steven Hal­crow and Lina Gold­berg, Siem Reap Food Tours of­fers a unique per­spec­tive into one of the least un­der­stood food cul­tures of South-East Asia.

A bit of back­ground: Hal­crow used to work as a chef in a twoMiche­lin-starred restau­rant in Scot­land and Cui­sine Wat Dam­nak (cur­rently num­ber 43 in 2016’s Asia’s 50 best) in Siem Reap; and Gold­berg has been based in Siem Reap since 2010, writ­ing about food and travel for the likes of The Wall

Street Jour­nal and CNN. The duo has spent years get­ting to know Kh­mer food, cul­ture and lan­guage, and the re­sults paid off. Dur­ing the tour, we watched as Hal­crow joked with ven­dors and placed or­ders for food with ease. Our first stop of the day (we went on the morn­ing tour, but evening tours are avail­able as well), Psar Leu (mean­ing ‘Old Mar­ket’) is a pho­tog­ra­pher’s dream. Sun­light streams in be­tween um­brel­las, colours bloom from the sur­rounds, and bas­kets over­flow with pro­duce like cat­fish, grapes, gar­lic and dough­nuts. Cam­eras click­ing fran­ti­cally, we fol­lowed Hal­crow into a labyrinth of stalls, ma­noeu­vring be­tween hunks of freshly butchered meat and tubs of fer­mented food­stuffs, be­fore com­ing to a stop at a non­de­script hawker stall.

We be­gan with the banh sung – a rice noo­dle salad in which rib­bons of fresh rice noo­dles are

tossed with spring rolls, greens, sweet-sour cu­cum­ber pick­les, crushed peanuts, bits of pork, small crunchy shrimp, a dash of lime juice and fish sauce – which started things off on a good note. We had al­most fin­ished it when we were re­minded that this is a food tour and that we should pace our­selves. We pol­ished it off any­way.

As we con­tin­ued ex­plor­ing the mar­ket, Hal­crow kept up a run­ning com­men­tary and pointed things out (pra­hok, a fer­mented fish paste in­te­gral to Kh­mer cook­ing; how lo­cals use sugar palm fruit in their iced desserts; the his­tory of red ants and lar­vae stir-fries in Kh­mer fare). More culi­nary high­lights awaited at the mar­ket – a plas­tic bag of freshly pressed sugar cane juice, some kueh bahu­l­u­looka­likes baked over char­coal, skew­ers of ba­nanas caramelised in palm sugar. We would’ve gladly spent the whole day here, but it was soon time to move on to the next des­ti­na­tion.

Trundling along in the tuk­tuk, past paddy fields and the oc­ca­sional tem­ple (it’s al­most within Angkor Wat ter­ri­tory), we munched on spongy palm sugar cakes from the mar­ket and talked about lo­cal pol­i­tics be­fore ar­riv­ing in a lit­tle vil­lage. Here, res­i­dents still make rice noo­dles from scratch.

We watched the la­bo­ri­ous noo­dle-mak­ing process. Flour and other in­gre­di­ents are painstak­ingly pounded and kneaded into dough, which is put in a type of mill to be pressed. Some­one sits on top of the mill to push the weight down. This presses the dough through the holes at the bottom, which makes the thin strands of noo­dles. The translu­cent rice ver­mi­celli are then gen­tly folded into neat lit­tle bun­dles and placed in banana leaf-lined bas­kets be­fore be­ing de­liv­ered to restau­rants in town. These noo­dles are usu­ally used for num banh chok, the un­of­fi­cial na­tional dish of Cam­bo­dia that’s made with the afore­men­tioned fish paste.

The rest of the four-hour­long tour in­cludes a gar­den of lo­cal Cam­bo­dian pro­duce, where we tried fresh pep­pers straight off the vine, skew­ers from smoky road­side bar­be­cue stalls, a Kh­mer home-style lunch, and, of course, re­ally good num banh chok, which is kind of like a mild ver­sion of as­sam laksa. Be­fore we knew it, our time was up and Hal­crow and the tuk­tuk driver dropped us off, stuffed and happy. There is good street food in Siem Reap. You just have to know where to find it. Book a slot on siem­reap­food­tours. com. USD75 (about $106) per per­son.

Hal­crow (right) point­ing out the spe­cial­ties of a Siem Reap bar­be­cue joint

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