Cambodia drives me to drink. Picture: riverfront sunsets with amber rays, light grazing across cocktail-hour boats and the saffron folds of a monk’s robe. Warm breeze, jasmine air. Pedicabs and pushcarts, buzzing mopeds, rumbling trucks. Kids selling postcards and photocopied books, and a seat at the sidewalk where I can watch it all (this can be said of just about any Khmer riverside town). I sit and sip a $1 draft. It’s not the beer that draws me (the alcohol? yes… Southeast Asian beer? no). Mostly, it’s the scene.
And the peanuts.
Many regional bars and restaurants offer peanuts with drinks. Not just ordinary nuts, but snacks with pizzazz – roasted or fried with crispy garlic, whole red chiles and shreds of ginger (try making a batch the next time you entertain guests!). Sometimes a dab of sugar, always a pinch of salt. In all my years of Asian cocktails, I’ve decided I most admire the way Cambodians do their peanuts. For free.
Then again, last year I ate freebie salted peanuts with wedges of dried, crushed soybean cake at a Chinese restaurant in Myanmar’s Shan State. Those were tasty, those were different.
And I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for the Drunken Flower, a longtime Chiang Mai hangout with decent tunes and plates of peanuts with chile, salt and a heap of fresh green onion. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum. Those nuts are on the menu, and they aren’t free, but I’ll gladly spend a few baht on them.
We’ve had nuts galore on the brain lately. In a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to read all about the Angkor Peanut Family and their little operation. And then I’ll tell you about an exciting new Rambling Spoon venture.
But first, we must head to the hinterlands, in search of ancient iron workers. Meanwhile, take a seat and drink up!