DSC_0632This would be so illegal in Canada but I wish we had a vibrant street food culture like many places around Asia.

I first spotted this pizza shop on a tuk tuk (motorized taxi) around Siem Reap, Cambodia when I was bicycling. The fire caught my attention and I went closer until I realized it was a woodfire oven right at the back of a scooter.

The pizza chef is originally from Phnom Penh and many people stop for pizza as he goes around town. Once you place your order, they make it fresh on the spot for you.

I always spotted him when I wasn’t looking for him and when I tried to find the tuk tuk pizza, I couldn’t find him. My good friend and I promised that if we passed him on the way back home, we would stop for a pizza. It was pretty good for a fresh, street pizza.

But because he is business savvy, you can take his business card and they do free delivery.

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Must-go restaurants in Battambang

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I’ve been to Battambang City in the north of Cambodia a few times and for a quiet little town, I’ve been very surprised by how delicious some of their restaurants are. Even the $0.50 iced condensed milk coffee is tastier than any one I’ve had in Siem Reap at the local market.

It’s easy to find the most popular restaurants in Battambang but if you only have a day or two, I strongly recommend saving one or a few meals for Eden Cafe and Flavors of India.

Eden Cafe

Eden Cafe is connected to a local organization that focuses on investing in the futures of Khmer people by empowering them with new skills and creating jobs. The cafe has a modern design where people can enjoy a delicious meal, air-con and fast Wi-Fi while supporting the work of a fantastic organization.

The prices are a bit higher with the average price being US $5.00 per dish, but if you don’t eat a lot the portions are generous and can easily be shared between two people.

I’ve had the fettucini alfredo meal three times during my last two trips in Battambang, that’s how good it was. It’s simple but it is the perfect comfort food.

This is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had in Cambodia and is probably the best in Cambodia. I’m picky about hot chocolate and they make the perfect creamy, marshmellow texture at the top of the drink.

I thought I would branch out from my fettucini alfredo and try the Huevos Rancheros (Black Bean, Egg, Salsa, Tortilla, Sour Cream, Bacon) for breakfast. A lot of times Mexican food is either a hit or miss in any country, so I’m always a bit skeptical. But this was a great meal and all of the ingredients blended well together to create a great flavour.

The Cobb salad dressing was good and big enough to feed two people.


Flavors of India

Flavors of India is a chain that began in Phnom Penh but has locations in Battambang and Siem Reap. I don’t find the Indian food that great or memorable in Siem Reap. I’ve gone to Flavors of India twice in Battambang and the flavors were always delicious and their chai tea is one of the best I’ve ever tasted of all the countries I’ve visited.

The best deal is their sets, which includes a naan bread, jasmine rice, dhaal, and two curries. One set is definitely enough to share between two people and if you try a naan bread with your curries, order a garlic naan.

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Fine fusion cuisine from the Khmer twin chefs

The talented chefs Pol Kimsan (left) and Sok Kimsan (right).

Siem Reap is a food heaven where visitors, locals and expats can try everything from traditional Cambodian food, Indian food to fine French cuisine.

I was very happy I was introduced to two very talented Khmer (Cambodian) women who have worked their way up to become executive chefs at Embassy restaurant, one of the nine restaurants in the Angkor W Group of Restaurants.

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Pol Kimsan and Sok Kimsan have humble backgrounds and have worked hard to integrate their experience working at hotels, restaurants and Michelin Star training in France to create a unique fine dining experience at Embassy.

They first met when they worked at the five-star Victoria Hotel in Siem Reap and have been together through the development of their skills, food experimentation and running the Embassy kitchen.

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I went with friends to experience their five-course menu and was very impressed with the incredible and unique flavours they created. We listened to a personal introduction of each dish by staff before indulging in each of them.

I feel honoured to have had a chance to sit with these inspiring women so they could tell me about their journey first-hand.

Pol Kimsan

Pol Kimsan moved from Kampot to Siem Reap in 2002 and studied at Paul DuBrule hospitality training school for nine months. Her mentors and former colleagues pushed her to challenge herself and her skills.

“I’m from Kampot in the countryside and when I finished high school, I didn’t know what to do and applied to be a teacher. I came to Siem Reap because people said there are lots of tourists. So my uncle brought me here and sent me to Paul DuBrule school where I studied kitchen.

I came and learned English for one year and it was very difficult for me. I got a lot of experience when I trained at the hotel.

After I finished school, I came to work at Victoria Hotel cold kitchen to make things like salad. When I studied, I wanted to be bakery chef because around the world, women chefs cannot become an executive chef. My family is from the countryside so they don’t have a strong opinion on it or know what it is to be an executive chef.

The executive chef at Victoria told me to learn more about cooking food and transferred me from cold kitchen to hot kitchen and I learned a lot from him. When I work with him, I can follow everything that he taught me and he pushed me to make French food.

After I resigned at the hotel, I became the head chef at Champey and controlled the kitchen for another restaurant and got a lot of experience from the owner.

He is one of my mentors and he thought that me and Sok could create our own menu.”

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How did you choose which dishes would make the menu?

The restaurant opened on December 6, 2014 and we invited 15 customers from different backgrounds to try our food. We wanted to keep the traditional Cambodian flavours but with a Western twist. We tried different things but we just had to finally make decisions on the menu.

What message do you have for this next generation of Cambodian women?

We want to grow the young generation of cooks. We want Cambodian women to be a chef like the man.

Sok Kimsan

Sok Kimsan’s culinary skills were developed in Sala Bai training school and she also spent two years at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai. Her family grew up in the Siem Reap province.

Before I did not think I would be a chef. I never wanted to be a chef when I was young. But everybody said if you are a cook it’s better.

I just started learning at Sala Bai and I learned myself. They showed us many kinds of skills, provided training at the hotel and a cooking show in the kitchen. We worked in many difference places to get experience.

I was working in Dubai for two years at Grand Hyatt. It’s good for business but I prefer to live in Cambodia and came back in 2008.

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What message do you have for this next generation of Cambodian women?

My boss is very kind and it is only him to push and he pushed me when my family didn’t. I try to share my experience and teach what I know for the new generation and I tell them to work hard. They have to have confidence in themselves. I want women to be leaders. Women have many ideas.

Both women are part of the chef Association, which aims to promote Khmer food and encourage more Cambodians to go abroad and gain ideas.

When you are in Siem Reap, experience the twins’ fantastic fusion of flavours for yourself and the culmination of all of their culinary experience will be reflected in their food and presentation.

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Back to Back Cambodian weddings

The happy newlyweds.

 

I know I should probably be writing about my New Year’s Even in Siem Reap but I have been and will continue to be very busy with my new job with a travel company for the next 10 weeks. I still have to upload pictures then I’ll do a late post.

The last two weeks have been filled with back to back dinners with friends, reunions and consecutive Cambodian wedding parties. I love the openness of Cambodian weddings. One of my friends asked her cousin to give me a formal invitation so that was very sweet. I’ve really enjoying spending time and getting to know their families.

My very sweet friend Mara who got her cousins to invite me.

I went to the smaller pre-wedding party at the house which was really fun. We ate Cambodian food, there is as usual an unlimited supply of beer and soft drinks, karaoke and dancing.

Every time I go over my friend’s place, they are extremely hospitable in typical Cambodian fashion and offer to share their food and ask if I’ve eaten. I was really impressed with my friend too, I know she was so busy helping them prepare for many things, but when she saw that my ice was low on my drink she refilled it for me. Wow, talk about being a great host.

Girls just wanna have fun. Cambodians love karaoke. 

Last year I went to three Cambodian wedding parties in total and three weeks ago I went to three in a weekend. Her cousin’s wedding had the best food of all the weddings I went to and was at a restaurant. It was a fantastic time and I got to meet more nice people.

Great way to spend a Monday night.

Mara’s fun, intelligent and adorable daughter.

This is not soda, it’s duck’s blood. The real Cambodian food.

Pictures from the wedding party

There were at least 700 people at the restaurant of the wedding dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a big restaurant in Cambodia.

 

 

Getting ready to dance.

 

A mega Cambodian salad.

 

Happy happy

 

Beautifully cooked fish.

 

My first apartment guests in Siem Reap

Old friends and new friends eating omelet and baguette. 

I just moved to a simple apartment in Siem Reap and wanted at least a place that was big enough to host at least a few guests. I’m off Wat Bo, one of the major roads that runs parallel to the Siem Reap River.

I go out a lot of late nights either for dinners at people’s houses, dancing or at restaurants, so I needed to make sure I chose a place where I feel very safe coming home late night. The latest I’ve come back so far is 4:00 a.m. and I’ve had no problems and feel very comfortable cycling back each time.

I was very happy to cook dinner for my Khmer (Cambodian) friends who have come over so far. My friends have cooked for me at their places many times, even when I’ve come last-minute and it’s been great to be able to open up my space for other people to come.

I love my area because it’s mostly Cambodian families so I always see kids playing in the courtyard and my neighbours are very friendly and say hello. In the first week I moved in, my neighbour said I can use any of his kitchenware anytime if I’m short on something and has been very helpful. Him and his friend have invited me a few times to join them for meals.

This is my friend’s friend whom I just met the night she came over with her adorable little sister. I’m happy that she said her sister felt comfortable in my place, which she often isn’t in new spaces.

Ready for cake.

Phai San BBQ: My favourite street restaurant in Siem Reap

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I first met my friends Phai and San, who are married, in 2013 when their restaurant was next to 9 other restaurants by Sivatha Road in SIem Reap. After ignoring all of the people who were hollaring for tourists to eat at their restaurants, my friend and I finally caved and decided to try Phai San. And we have been good friends ever since.

Not only is all of their food delicious at amazing prices (between $1.25 to $3.00 US), the couple is extremely generous and hospitable with their staff and guests. Phai San also happens to make my favourite stir-fried vegetable yellow noodle and I find it tastier than anywhere else I’ve been around Cambodia.

I was surprised when Phai told me that even when he is not making a profit, he pays his staff double the average Cambodian salary because he wants to give them a fair wage. He said, “One of my staff is having baby, so I want to pay her more.” When they invited me to their home town south of Cambodia, of course I didn’t expect them to pay any of my costs. But they offered to pay for my boat ride to San’s village, which I was very touched by. I spent three days with their family who hosted me so generously.

I’m always happy to support local Cambodian businesses that provide great service, delicious food and are run by very honourable people. If you’ve had a good experience at their restaurant, please write a review on Trip Advisor.

Day out with my Khmer family

Family day out.

I landed in Siem Reap a few days ago and I’ll be starting a new job with a travel company. I’m staying temporarily with my adopted Khmer (Cambodian) family until I get my own place.

I always encourage people to live in a different country for at least a few months because it’s an unforgettable experience to go out to places in the community and the country with local people. You find new favourite places to eat, hang out and go to hidden gems that only the local people would know about.

I arrived at midnight this past Tuesday and many Cambodian people are on holiday for most of the week because of Pchum Ben, one of Cambodia’s most important religious festivals that honours their ancestors. So my Khmer family invited me to join them to go to Tra Kot village, about 40 km outside of Siem Reap.

The drive was quite far into the rice fields and it was packed with kids swimming in the water, food, and people hanging by the hammocks. I always love watching families and friends enjoy time out together and eating together. Going out and eating out in Vancouver, Canada is expensive so that’s why I appreciate many places around Asia where going out is affordable for many people, not just people with high incomes.

It was a perfect way to spend my first day in Siem Reap as I got over my jetlag.

This is my beautiful friend Konnitha and her 1.5-year-old Hannah.

Konnitha’s father and Hannah.

This is a Cambodian chicken and cost $12 US.

I rode at the back of the truck with Gaga, Konnitha’s lovely 14-year-old sister who often helps me cook at home. We had a lot of wind in our faces on our way back home but in a hot country, that is always welcome.

This is a common view throughout the country of the rice fields and flat land.

These are the kinds of homes that most Cambodians live in throughout the country’s villages.