Thursday, 10 May 2012

Cambodia: quad biking and cookery classes

Quad adventure Cambodia - Siem Reap
Mrs M was ready for action at 6.30am, which is more than can be said for the hotel kitchen staff that had not been informed of our request for an early breakfast.

Paddy fields on Quad Adventure CambodiaAt 7.00am we were driven to the Quad Adventure Cambodia office where after a brief training run (‘I’ve only ever bruised an eye on a quad bike’, Mrs M said proudly to the owner) we headed into the countryside behind our guide. Mrs M’s helmet wobbled from side to side as we bounced along red clay tracks through paddy fields, past villages and small farms littered with sheets of rice drying in the baking sun. Children ran out of their houses to wave as the raspy engines whizzed past their huts while chickens and tethered cows recoiled in horror.

We stopped at a village market where ladies deftly deboned fish, small birds and lumps of unrecognisable meat with huge cleavers. Smoke from small charcoal fires mixed with the steam from bubbling pots of noodles which boiled over adding to the puddles from last night’s rain.

Local market on Quad Adventure CambodiaOur guide provided an extra hour in the fields before we returned to the office for water, wet towels and the removal of three hours of dust.

With a couple of hours to kill in the afternoon, we sat in the Blue Pumpkin café where high quality French cakes, pastries, coffee and drinks can be consumed in a space-age white air-conditioned lounge. The air in the room had a strong smell of mentholated chest rub or muscle cream which came from the cold wet flannels that provided blissful relief from the heat. They also did a good job of clearing the nose.

Banana flower salad & mango salad - Tigre de Papier cookery schoolWe left the Blue Pumpkin at 5pm for a cooking class at ‘Le Tigre de Papier’ restaurant. Along with five Aussies and Kiwis, we were led though the market to learn about some of the more unusual ingredients in the dishes we had each chosen to cook. There was much interest in the slightly bitter leaves used in the national dish of amok which come from the Noni or Nhor tree, although cauliflower leaves apparently make a good substitute. The strong aniseed flavour of the sweet or Thai basil is a particularly delightful feature of the food in Cambodia.

Mrs M's Amok - Tigre de Papier cookery school, Siem Reap
Back at the restaurant, our teacher Navin, with just one assistant, took each person through the preparation and cooking of a total fourteen Kmer dishes and one combined pudding. At one point, while trimming a particularly troublesome piece of galangal, I overheard Mrs M trying to describe the classic British dish of toad in hole to her fellow cooks.

After three hours, we sat around a large table to share the fruits of our labours including fresh and deep-fried spring rolls, banana flower salad, mango salad, pumpkin soup, amok, various curries, noodles, chicken with bok choy and Tum Yam soup.

The price for two, including three hours of tuition, an obscene amount of food and drinks including five beers (hey, it was hot in the kitchen) was US$27. Fantastic.

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