This, my friends, is the market where we used to shop for groceries when we first lived in Phnom Penh oh so many years ago. But I barely recognize the Boeung Keng Kong market today. I remember wooden stalls, mud puddles and mystery stenches. The vendors were generous, and I loved the magnificent arrays of fresh fruits and veggies. But it’s even better now. Tile floor, clean meat stalls, proper drainage and comfortable eating areas. Much has changed in this city, and some of it is distinctly for the better.
I thought I’d offer a little visual tour of eats on the street. We’ve been back two weeks, and I’ve yet to post a thing! Not for lack of material, however. We’ve eaten (and drunk) exceptionally well, from cheap sidewalk snacks to rooftop happy hours on the riverfront. Never before, in my estimation, has Phnom Penh offered so many options in so many palatable places at all fiscal levels. Take, for example, that inspiring glass of passionfruit juice above, served at one of the quietest little nooks with a pretty little garden in the Wat Lanka area. (Hint: it’s a great place to hang out if you need to read, think or make an important phone call.)
But the streets are still the same, with roving vendors offering goodies such as these chive cakes—crispy on the outside, gushing on the inside, served with a sweet-sour-vinegar-garlic sauce.
Just a few small riel notes will get you a mound of these.
I almost never buy soda, but the stunning heat here occasionally drives me to drink. There is something so satisfying about a cold sip of Coke on a scorching day.
Just a random bubbling wok of springrolls…
…and a random basket of skinned, peppered frogs out to dry in the sun.
If you know me, you know my love of num banh chok. I’ve had a few fairly successful attempts at home, but nothing beats the real thing, served at the source. Above: Psa Thmei num banh chok, chicken style, served with a pile of sliced banana flower. It was good.
But it wasn’t this. This is the spread of pink chairs at a string of num banh chok shops facing the Vietnam Monument. This didn’t exist when we lived here years ago. This is a vast improvement: table after shiny clean table, beckoning guests to a feast of curried noodles and bundles of fresh herbs.
…or fish, and pile on the greens. Mix with chile, a little salt. Savor the bitter herbs and the sweetness of curry and the bright flavors of lemongrass and lime… I could eat this every day. Really.
But not everyone everywhere had a chance to really enjoy their food. Last week, 13 women were arrested and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison after protesting evictions from their land in the city’s Boeung Kak area (a former lake filled with sand in preparation for development). Protests continued at the courthouse. Through the years, I’ve spent many sunburned hours at Cambodian protests and riots. One thing never changes: people follow their guts. Lunch comes, and everything stalls until the eating is done. Protesters…
…and cops alike.
But elsewhere across the city, it’s food as usual. Snacks on motos,
honeycombs heading to market,
lotus seeds waiting in the rain,
squishy sandwiches on café tables,
and leftover drinks pegged to trees.
We met this lively bunch celebrating a Saturday afternoon in a parked tuk-tuk. They were friendly, and welcomed us to Cambodia.