If something can easily connect you to a certain culture no matter where you are in the world, that is food. When you arrive to a new place, trying the most popular local dishes is a great intro to the local culture and, in many cases, even an ice-breaker to make conversation with people living there.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia, we decided to take things a little further. Instead of just eating the local cuisine, we signed up for a cooking class to learn how to make some Khmer specialities.
Food Habits in Cambodia
We joined the team at Beyond Unique Escapes for a cooking class with a twist: not only we chopped, mixed and curried things up, we also visited a family in a village to see what their kitchen and vegetable garden is like.
This was just a quick visit, right next to the cooking workshop, where we had the chance to understand how basic the conditions of local humble families are when it comes to cooking and eating.
That’s the great thing about cooking classes: by cooking and talking with local people you have a much better chance at understanding the local food habits rather than just observing what’s served in restaurants. Even when businesses serve local food, chances are they do so adapted to the taste of their international clientele. For instance, if you roam around any touristic area of Siem Reap (and the whole city is touristic!) you’ll think Cambodians eat Fish Amok or Chicken Curry all the time. And that isn’t necessarily so. Maybe those dishes are some of the local favorites, but they’re not eaten daily by the masses that will mostly have rice, small river fish and vegetables. We also learnt that French occupancy in Cambodia left its marks on the food side of things too: now, curry is sometimes eaten along with baguette, instead of rice.
Even before I put on the apron, I was already enjoying this class, just by chatting with our teacher and foodie guide Dany.
Cambodian Cooking Class
So after a quick walk and talk in the village, we arrived to the place where we’d be cooking our own lunch al fresco. This was a gorgeous rural setting, yet very well equipped. And so we met the chefs Ban and Von.
We prepared 3 dishes: Cambodian chicken curry, fresh spring rolls and Nom Tong Nuyen. We even grind and mixed our own curry paste from scratch, but I won’t be telling you how we did it, as you should join in and learn by yourself too!
All I can say is that the Cambodian curry was not that difficult at all to prepare once the curry paste was done, and it’s such a luscious coconuty preparation that any curry lover would enjoy.
While our curry was simmering to its perfectly smooth consistency, it was time for us to put together some fresh spring rolls. Way lighter than the fried version, these are filled with fresh vegetables and a lot of fragrant herbs and, dipped in the sweet and sour sauce also made by us, tasted like a summer day in an exotic place!
Desert was something we had never eaten before: Nom Tong Nuyen. Although mixing the ingredients was a fairly straight forward process, cooking these waffle like cakes and rolling them up was fun! And the fact that they tasted so crispy and good, obviously didn’t bother us either.
Once we were done in the kitchen, as the cooking workshop is right next to Sojourn Hotel by the same company, we were served steamed rice (to go along with the curry) and chilled drinks, making this a very complete meal, enjoyed by a pond with fish (deep inside, I was happy to be eating chicken and vegetables that day).
The food tasted great, our spirits got lifted up in such green surroundings and it was a lot of fun to hang out with our teachers, chefs and fellow traveling cooks.
And most of all, we’ll be taking with us these Cambodian recipes around the world, no matter where we go. In a country that has suffered such devastation in recent history, a lot of culinary tradition has been lost. It is our pleasure to contribute to keeping Khmer typical cuisine alive!