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Friday, 20 November 2009

Cambodia & Vietnam: Cuisine on the Horizon - Page 2

Written by Scott Haas
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Siem Reap: Twelfth century Buddhist and Hindu temples, huge fruit bats flying like black clouds over city parks, and rice fields stretching for miles in all directions.  My wife and I went to see the temples and enjoy the remarkable hospitality--Cambodians we met were very curious about us and frank in telling us their life stories.  We also returned with a love of their food.

I decided to follow the trail of Angelina Jolie, who filmed “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in Siem Reap.  Hooray for Google!

Angelina stayed at FCC Angkor where a room and breakfast for two was about $130.  Her crew ate at “The Red Piano” in the center of town--on a corner, shaded and protected by big, potted palms, this terrific bar and grill offers delicious Cambodian beef dishes, Western pasta, and even a very good version of a club sandwich for those, like me, who need to mix up the exotic with the familiar.  The draft beer is first-rate, too, and “The Tomb Raider” cocktail--gin, lime juice, club soda--is a good antidote for the stress of travel.

Local restaurants--Khmer Kitchen and Neary Khmer are two of the best--are plentiful.  No tourism?  No Siem Reap.  But now and then it was good to treat ourselves to places more refined.

FCC Angkor has a bar and lounge with views of the Siem Reap river--you really should not miss the “Happy Hour” here with half-price drinks and hot peanuts.

One of the best restaurants in town is at Heritage Suites, a Relais & Chateaux property, where the French cuisine (using meat flown in from New Zealand and Australia) and upscale wine list are served with alacrity in a palatial setting that help you to imagine you are in France.  I’ll admit that being in Cambodia, a so-called Third World country, was jarring--a quiet French meal was a real treat.

So don’t pass up the prahok, but don’t forget to balance the diet.


My wife, a family physician with Boston University Medical School, was asked by the Vietnamese Medical Association to teach medical didactics in Haiphong.  I traveled solo to meet her, through Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi.

A new city is a great pleasure to explore on foot, but that simply was harrowing in Vietnam.  Thousands of motor scooters zoom by and their riders take traffic laws as suggestions rather than commands.  You cross streets religiously, praying not to be hit; hoping the vehicles coming towards you will stop or go around.

Cambodia & Vietnam: Cuisine on the Horizon, Cambodian cuisine, Prahok, Phum Stoeng Tror Cheak, The Red Piano, weasel coffee, food Vietnam, pho, caramelized pork, young ginger, Siem Reap, Scott HaasThe markets were accessible, however, and here it was possible to enjoy extremely delicious bowls of noodles with fried garlic and bits of sautéed beef and scallions.  The flavors everywhere were deep and subtle.

Among the most enjoyable gastronomical experiences in Vietnam is the coffee, which is a legacy from the French years of colonial occupation.  Strong, dark, rich, and subtle, Vietnamese coffee gives a jolt, but nothing that makes your nerves shudder.  It is a wake-up call and one that refines the senses.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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