One of my favorite parts of traveling is trying new food. There’s no way to immerse yourself in a culture quite like eating the local foods. It’s an adventure that has always ended with a deliciously full stomach in the best of cases or a funny story in the worst.
To better discover the Khmer culture we signed ourselves up for a cooking class at Le Tigre de Papier and spent the better half of an afternoon chopping, slicing, dicing, rolling, tossing and laughing at our creations. Oh and did I mention we got to eat them all at the end? A feast we couldn’t even finish among the 10 or so of us taking the class.
Upon our arrival we were handed a menu and told to pick out a starter and main course. Lucky for me there was an entire veg section. We looked around and discussed what to choose so there would be a variety of dishes made.
I also forgot to mention we had participated in the Siem Reap pub crawl the night before so although it was 1 PM, I was still feeling a little buzz. At least no hangover treatments were required, but everything the instructor said seemed funny and we were the weakest links, struggling to keep up.
We headed off to the market so our instructor could show us the ins and outs of stocking the kitchen with the necessary ingredients for our future masterpieces, I mean dishes.
The market is a short walk from Pub Street and a hive of activity. As we entered I was hit with the heavy smell of seafood. Not the most appetizing but I held my breath to see all the little creatures tied up or piled up awaiting their turns.
Baskets full of shells, piles of crab. I was shocked when the shells opened up revealing they were still alive.
The produce was the most beautiful part of the market because the exotic fruits of Southeast Asia offer up a rainbow of tropical colors and enticing designs. We grabbed a few mangosteen, jack fruit and dragon fruit to try back at the restaurant.
We also got to smell the different spices that make the Khmer and other Asian dishes so exotic to me. I have become addicted to curry.
We continued to wander the market taking in new sights and smells and eventually wove our way back to the restaurant.
We were promptly decked out in full chef attire and told to rinse our hands in a bowl full of lime slices. I think citrus is astringent?
I had chosen mango salad and Maggie had chosen spring rolls for our appetizers so the first order of business was shredding up all the necessary vegetables with a julienne peeler.
MANGO SALAD DRESSING SAUCE
FRIED SPRING ROLLS
½ carrot cut thin
½ sweet potato cut thin
½ taro root cut thin
½ onion cut thin and slice
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp brown sugar
½ clove of garlic chopped
2 ladles of water
1 tsp oyster sauce
SPRING ROLLS DIPPING SAUCE
1 shallot chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 cilendral root chopped
½ sweet chili chopped
squeeze of lime juice
1 ladle of water
Heat olive oil, brown sugar, and garlic in a pan. Add carrot, potato and taro root when mixture begins to brown. Mix and then add water and oyster sauce. After 5-7 minutes allow mixture to cool. Spoon cooled mixture onto rice paper edge, roll twice, fold in the outer edges and continue to roll. Use egg yolk to seal. Deep fry rolls. Serve with dipping sauce.
Once we got the ingredients piled high on our plates they were swiftly traded out with a whole new set of vegetables to prep for our main courses for which I chose a curry and Maggie chose fried noodles. Rather than use a curry powder we minced up our spices fresh then pounded them to mush with a pestle.
The scent was divine but I had to scurry off and leave the pestle to Maggie because it was time to create a vegetarian dressing for the mango salad.
What I learned was that chicken powder (kind of like what you can get in a bouillon cube or from the flavor of chicken stock) is put in everything. At least all the dishes for westerners. No wonder everything seemed to bother my stomach!! We simply omitted this powder from the salad, the salad dressing, the spring roll filling, the spring roll dipping sauce and every other dish we prepped. Literally, chicken powder goes in everything!!
Maggie got her turn to fry our noodles and then I combined spices, coconut milk and vegetables for the curry.
KHMER STYLE CURRY
3 tbsp Khmer curry paste
½ tbsp sugar
5 tbsp coconut milk
½ a carrot peeled and cut into chunks
½ a sweet potato peeled and cut into chunks
½ onion diced
1 long bean cut into short pieces
a pinch of salt
4 pieces of star anis
1 piece of silmon
KHMER CURRY PASTE
1 piece galangal peeled and sliced
2 pieces turmeric root peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 piece of lemongrass chopped
4 pieces of shallot peeled and chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves rolled and sliced into strips
Mush or blend all ingredients together for curry paste. Heat the coconut milk in a pan. Add khmer curry paste, sugar, sweet potato, carrot, onion, and long bean. Cook for 10 minutes.Add water as necessary to moisten the ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetable are well done. Serve with rice.
½ a carrot peeled and cut into thin slices
½ onion roughly chopped
50 g cabbage cut thin and slice
1 spring onion cut long
1 cauliflower cut thin
½ tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
oyster sauce and pepper to taste
Heat oil in the pan. Combine all ingredients and stir until well done.
When everyone had cooked their dishes it was time to make dessert.
Fried drunken bananas in coconut milk and whiskey… We had another name for it but it’s a bit less appropriate. This dessert was hit or miss with the group – sadly a miss for us.
Everyone headed downstairs excited to sample the dishes. I was especially proud of how pretty everything looked. It was a giant feast and my only regret is that I didn’t have room for more!
Sampling a variety of Khmer food was exciting, and learning to cook it myself was even more fun! Not only do I have a better appreciation for the food and culture, I have a deeper understanding of Khmer daily life. Oh and I can’t wait to make the mango salad at home! Both the Thai and Khmer versions are delightfully delicious.. Quite possibly my new favorite food!
Putting It Together
- Classes at Le Tigre de Papier cost us about $15 and included a 3 course meal (veg-friendly upon request). Find more information on their website.
- The class lasts 3 hours and occurs daily at 10 AM, 1 PM and 5 PM. You can sign up in advance or the day of class.
- You meet at Le Tigre de Papier but classes take place on the second floor of another restaurant a few blocks down Pub Street.
- Based on our group popular hits included spring rolls, fried noodles, mango salad, pumpkin soup and amok. We weren’t so crazy about the Khmer curry or the banana dessert.