Siem Reap – River Garden Food Tour
We love a food tour, you know this, I say it every time we do one, we both love food and it’s an opportunity to eat like a local, discover new tastes and try things you would never normally dream of eating, who doesn’t love that!
We normally like to take a food tour as soon as we arrive in a new city, we get the lay of the land and then eat the things we loved for the rest of our stay but it took longer than usual for us to take one in Siem Reap having had to reschedule when J suffered his first ever bout of food poisoning. My stomach had told me long before his wised up that the pate and cheese baguettes he was so fond of were no good but anyway… that was a few days ago and he’s thankfully all better now. We’d chosen the well reviewed and recommended River Garden Street Food Tour and arrived by four thirty in good time to meet the three other participants, who were quite lovely and of course I have no idea what their names were (If you’re reading this please email me and I will gladly include them).
We all headed off by tuk tuk with our guide Diyouk through the rush hour laden streets to our first stop, a large market aimed purely at the locals. Actually a cavern of a market we had explored in depth ourselves earlier in the week as it’s very close to our hotel. As it turned out it was now undergoing some pretty major resurfacing work and so we were limited in where we could explore and stuck mostly to the edge of the traffic congested road, dodging cars, bikes and mopeds and stopping periodically to be introduced to new and intriguing fruits. Having been travelling in SE Asia for a while now it’s always nice to come across something entirely new and we did this on more than one occasion over the evening. Our first taste was of cooked sweet potato, white instead of orange but other than that not so dissimilar to the ones at home. After that was taro which we’ve had in a few things and enjoyed, this I think boiled version was bleurgh (technical term) it tasted pretty much how I imagine Playdoh tasting, sooo won’t be having that again soon. At the same stall were huge, I mean marrow sized, beetroot we didn’t try those but I’m not averse to doing so at some point. The others tried the bizarre looking snake fruit we discovered in Indonesia but the one here was soft and cream as opposed to the hard white flesh we had enjoyed and they all threw it away unimpressed. Diyouk pointed out the potato looking Sapodilla and small round fragrant Longan and other fruits native to Cambodia that we would have a bit later for dessert.
The next delicacy we tasted were the flat barbecued bananas we have seen everywhere, they tasted as expected, flat and banana-y and a little stale, they’d been marinaded in something which I couldn’t really distinguish and don’t need to have them again. As there was not much else to see due to the resurfacing works we headed off to the next stop, a large local street market that springs up each night alongside Road 60, the stalls line the street selling everything from deep fried water beetles to balloons and jeans. Our first stop was for palm seed, a completely new one on us, it looks a bit liked a cooked palm fruit, chalky cream in colour and tasted like, well my best description is when you break open the cob from a cooked corn and eat that spongy middle bit, slightly cardboardy, slightly corny and slightly coconutty. J says he didn’t even know there was anything in the middle of a corn cob so maybe I am alone in having eaten it, he thinks it had a meringue like texture which I disagree with, we liked it whatever it tasted like.We next tried lotus seed, an awful lot of work for a very small reward, you start with the lovely sculptural looking large green seed head from which you eject a small smooth green seed pod, which you then peel revealing an even smaller white seed, which you eat, taking out the tiny inner green supposedly bitter sprout if you so wish. I couldn’t tell the difference eating it with or without the sprout so kept it in after the first one, it tasted like a raw pea or bean, quite nice nothing special. The cooked version had the texture of a soggy kidney bean and tasted a bit too salty having been cooked in salt water, we were evenly split on who preferred them raw or cooked. The stall next to the lotus seed seller was steaming a mound of snails, one of our fellow foodies told me that their guide for the day told them they are usually sold raw and best avoided. We have seen sellers with them every day and it seems they lay them in big trays, cover them in chilli and spices and let them cook in the sun, er yeah ok, when Diyouk asked if we wanted to try the cooked variety we all declined. I like my snails in garlic and butter and even then I have to think of something else when I eat them. Then we came to the dreaded bug stall, we’ve seen them in Thailand and a few other places on our travels and never been brave or foolish enough to partake but come on, a whole continent can’t be wrong, can it? They’re a great source of protein and they have been deep fried which surely must kill any nasties. Of the assembled piles of deep fried grasshopper, cricket, slender frogs, water beetle and silkworm I first tried the grasshopper, thankful for Diyouk’s tutelage, he showed me you remove the sharp legs and if you want also remove the head, so I popped the body in my mouth and crunched away, honestly not that bad like eating a prawn with the shell on is all. The slender frog followed, this one just tasted like a really crispy chicken wing and I could have merrily munched on a few more. I skipped the water beetles, they seemed a bit pointless, you remove the wing covers and wings and legs and anyway they looked far too much like cockroaches for me to enjoy. The deep friend silkworm was like a mushy bean, something I don’t need to hurry to re eat but I am glad I tried, even though none of the others could be persuaded to join me.
A slightly more usual deep fried prawn cracker followed, the whole prawns were held together by a crispy batter and were very tasty, the addition of a cold beer would have been perfect. J, whose sweet tooth knows no bounds, had a fresh made sugar cane and lime drink next, made by passing a metres worth of sugar cane and a lime through an impressive looking press until all the juice was squeezed out, the sweetness was off the charts but he thoroughly enjoyed it. At this point I think we were all wondering, at least I was, when we would actually eat something, other than just sampling, all the other food tours we’ve done have involved vast and continuous eating, not just the sampling we were currently doing.The sampling continued with another first, sour sop fruit, we’ve had the drink which has a salty sweet tangy taste but never the fruit, a large knobbly thing with white flesh and black seeds, the texture was slightly stringy but mostly peachlike and all of us except J thought it was delicious when Diyouk passed around a slice. Tasting like toasted marshmallows we then tried a large flat poppadom looking rice cracker that an old lady was making freshly at the roadside on a tiny fire, which was absolutely sublime, we all would have been happy eating more and I can see us returning for these later in the week.
Our final meal saw us sat uncomfortably on floor matting behind a barbecue stall where we had chosen from a large selection of precooked catfish, quail, pork ribs, stuffed frog, chicken butt and every other part of a chicken. We’d seen frogs being stuffed the other day and I was glad of an opportunity to try them, actually they tasted just like sausage, which really it was having been stuffed with pork mince and a variety of herbs, sadly for me it was spicy so after the first bite I was relegated to the legs, which if you’ve ever had them you’ll know taste just like chicken. I didn’t have any of the quail it was so tiny but the pork rib was tasty if not rather minimal.
Our small meal was finished off with sapodilla and husband killer cake, an interesting name for a dessert none of us liked, tasteless glutinous rice balls with liquid sugar centres covered in shaved coconut. So named for a myth where a hungry husband came home looking for food and unable to contain his hunger ate some straight from the boiling water they are cooked in and scalded his insides and died, not so happily ever after then.
And just as we were all relaxing and getting to know each other we were rushed into our tuk tuks and sent on our separate ways.
Diyouk was a fine guide, we stopped at only two locations and there was definitely less food than any food tour we have been on, I could have eaten a full meal when we got back to our hotel and I would say ninety percent of the food we were offered to try was fruit. Food hygiene is very different here, we know that, our bellies have on occasion borne the brunt of it, so without being overly picky there was a little too much handling of our food for our liking, there were plenty of times it could have been handled less or not at all and we’d all still have been able to try some.
Other than the rushed end and over touching of food it was a very nice way to pass an evening, to learn about and eat some different foods and to meet some lovely new people Xx