“You want to try?”
I was on the 5 hour bus ride from Siem Reap to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The Cambodia girl next to me was delightfully holding up a deep fried grasshopper which was staring at me through it’s fried eyeball held by its tail.
“No thanks” I replied. “I have mister potato (crisps/chips in a tube similar to Pringles) and bananas”
The usual conversation went on from there, she was 26 from Phnom Penh, working as a bank clerk and just had a weekend holiday in Siem Reap.
She offered a spare room at her house where she lived with her auntie, daughter and doctor for the 2 nights I was staying in Phnom Penh, I of course accepted, nothing beats a free nights accommodation – it is the ultimate in showing hospitality, but then said it wouldn’t be possible for tonight so had to get a hotel anyway.
After arriving we shared a tuk tuk to a hotel and she went on home to get her moto (scooter/moped) and return to me. I hopped on the back and we went down the road, I was grateful for her average low speed of 20km/h considering neither of us had helmets on and it being dark so I had no idea where we was going.
What I was not so grateful about was the Cambodia style of getting in lane; This consists of turning the corner (without slowing down or looking), driving against traffic in the gutter until a space occurs then crossing the lane and trying to fit in the lane going in the correct direction. They say you see light before you die, well I saw lots of lights coming at me – headlights of cars, tuk tuks and other motos.
After a brief look around the night market (it was small) she took me on a mini tour of the city passing an impressive looking casino and having a conversation with one of her customers in a pick up truck (us both still on the moto) without looking at what was in front of her…
Eventually we went to eat, she asked if I wanted Euro food or ‘my food’. Forgetting that she offered me fried insects that had been sitting outside for days earlier I said “your food” plus, what is the point of going to Cambodia to eat european food?
Like previous Cambodia food I had tried, it was tasty enough, some meat which I assume was chicken and rice in a mild sauce. She then took me back to the hotel and we agreed to meet again the next day.
The 2nd date…
I awaited Sophea (pronounced So-feet) turn up late soaking wet and in her small bank uniform smiling when she spotted me in the hotel lobby.
“Bit wet?” I asked
“It rain” She replied, with no emotion on her face.
We went outside and headed towards her moto, indeed it was raining hard. The rain glimmered as the street lamps lit it up as it fell to the slowly flooding road.
She had a conversation with a Cambodia man in their Kymer language as we arrived where she had parked her white suzuki moto. She told me he said he was dissapointed that she returned to it with another man as he fancied her.
After that she pointed at her high heels and skirt and the moto, and said “you drill?”
Now a girl pointing at her skirt asking me to drill can mean all sorts of things, but in the hard rain with a Cambodian man watching I really wasn’t sure what she was asking until she did a twisting movement with her hand, “you drill?”
“Yes!, you can?”
I got a full unrestricted motorbike licence before leaving the UK knowing motorbikes were a primary form of transport in Asia, so of course I had to accept despite not being on one for over 4 months when I passed my test, it raining hard, on the side of the road I wasn’t used to, and borrowing someone elses bike with her on the back overlooking.
A bit of a wobbly start and we was off, I asked where we should go and she said wherever I want, it’s a small city. Which didn’t help me make any decisions at all. A bit of confusion later (but much safer riding then her own style). I told her we should go eat and I’ll pay and take her to whatever her favourite resturant was, I mean, this girl has given me a lot of time already without barely knowing me so I felt I should pay her back by buying her dinner.
She said we should go see her friend, who runs a street side food stall not far away. Under a tarpaulin held up with a basic wooden frame and sat down on child sized plastic stalls a mere 15cm (6″) or so above the ground, I wasn’t asked what I fancied to eat, Sophea just went ahead and ordered a mix because she was hungry.
Sophea informed me they said I wasn’t welcome here as I was foriegn, I mentioned that maybe we should go not wanting to cause trouble but she said it would be fine.
Time to eat!
First up was a plate of small meatballs, I’m not sure what meat it was, but it tasted half way between beef and pork.
Secondly was a big bowl of mussels, I’m not keen on them so Sophea had them mainly to herself dipping them in a chilli sauce and sugar combination she made at the table in a seperate dish.
Next… “What is this?”
“Egg”‘ she replied, she said something else I didn’t understand and she didn’t know the English ‘pong tea koun’ was the Kymer pronouciation, how bad can an egg be anyway?
It was large for an egg, and battered, I assume and was expecting a scotch egg when I bit into it, but sunk my teeth into it, clearly meat, I’m glad I’m not a vegetarian right now. The ‘egg’ had various bits to it, the meat, a mussel like red fleshy bit and a hard boiled egg part. I really couldn’t figure it out, but it seemed reasonable enough, it was dark which I think was a blessing too that I couldn’t quite see it properly.
We was then served a large plate of salad with ice on top to stop it getting warm in the humid Phnom Penh evening warmth. Knowing this is a Cambodia street stall, I figured it would be best to avoid the salad due to the poor standard of water here that it was cleaned with and the ice was made from.
We then had 2 fried headless animals on a plate dropped down on the table. I just stared in the complete lack of preparation/spices besides beheading and dropping in a frying pan.
“Is that rat or frog?” I asked
“Yes!” She replied
I then asked her “Is there anymore food coming or is this all of it?”
She said it was the last one, as she tore this creatures leg off and began tearing the meat away from the bones. I figured out it was actually frog, and if the French can eat this, then so can I, so I took the other leg and chewed at the thigh part of the leg, it tasted like fluffy chicken, no complaints really, I didn’t eat the body though.
At this point another Cambodian girl who didn’t speak English asked Sophea to tell me that she loved me and wanted me to go sing a song (karaoke style) with her at a bar, quite a contrast from the initial unwelcome tone I seemed to recieve at this eating place.
I had a bit of the salad knowing it would be sliding out of my backside quicker then it went in the front end just for a bit of normality from this road kill dinner.
I asked again what the egg thing was that I was eating (I started on the second one of the two on the plate).
“oh, it is duck” She said.
“Duck egg?” Interesting I thought, although that doesn’t really explain the meat.
“Yes baby duck inside still”
“Eh? I’m eating some duckling still inside the egg?”
“You no have this in your country?” She asked, a slight confused look on her face.
“No… we have KFC” I replied.
I was still unsure of what it was, but as someone I later met mentioned “oh you had that fetus thing” which summed it up nicely. I feel I have lived an blissfully ignorant life until now. Further research shows what they actually look like in the daylight (mine was battered though), ranking at #1 on the most terrifying food to eat on this list:
Anyhow, after the fetus balls, fried frog, unknown meat balls and parasite salad costing $5 for the both of us including a coca cola we got back on the moto exchanged pleasentries and I bid Sophea goodnight and farewell, it was only 8:30pm but she gets to sleep early due to long work hour commitment she has, a shame we couldn’t meet on a weekend night. Certainly a memorably alternative and weird night for me, just a usual meal out for her I guess, how things are so different just a few thousand miles away.