The one thing my friend had asked me to arrange whilst he was in Siem Reap was a Countryside Cooking class at the Sojourn boutique villas http://www.sojournsiemreap.com/ and it proved a great end to his Cambodian holiday adventure.
The cooking classes take place 3 times daily, morning, afternoon and evening and in light of how hot the weather has been recently I thought the morning class would be best. We hired a car to collect us from our hotel at the very reasonable time of 9 am and were driven around 6kms outside of Siem Reap to Trek Village where we were greeted with a bottle of cold water and a cooling face towel by our host for the morning, the effervescent Narang (I hope I spelled that correctly)
After a quick walk around the village itself we were taken to meet one of the families that lived there – part of the cooking course price is used to buy a gift of rice for you to give to the family that you meet – and see how they go about their daily lives. I won’t lie to you, I know that many Cambodians live in incredibly basic living conditions, but the houses we went to were pretty shocking even to me. Needless to say it did not feel appropriate to take photos of this part of our day and I was happy when the time came to leave the village and start the class proper.
The class is set up in the grounds of the hotel around a specially constructed outdoor kitchen complete with sink and fan so you can stay cool and also hygienic – Narang was very good at telling us to go and wash our hands after we had used them to prepare something.
We started by preparing a soup version of Fish Amok, thankfully quicker to prepare than the classic steamed version. I was initially surprised with just how fine we had to chop the lemongrass, kaffir lime, turmeric, garlic and shallot as we were going to make it into a paste using a mortar and pestle but it all became apparent when we started pounding it to a paste and the lemongrass just wouldn’t breakdown!
Thankfully this was the most strenuous part of the recipe and once prepared we simply added to a hot pan with a spoonful of oil until the aromas were released, added the bar fish (chopped into thick slices) stock, noni leaf and coconut milk and after bringing to the boil we left it to simmer. Narang added an egg just before serving to help thicken it up which really made all the difference to the mouth feel. I was surprised with how easy it was to make, especially if you were to cheat and use a food processor to make the curry paste.
Our next dish was Glutinous Rice Balls stuffed with Palm Sugar. I was so impressed with how easy these were to make! We simply added a little water to the rice flour until it formed a solid ball – almost the consistency of playdough, then we added a little nugget of palm sugar to the middle and re-rolled to get a perfect sphere. These were cooked in boiling water for about 5 minutes or until they had been floating on the top of the water for 3 minutes or so. These were served simply with fresh coconut shaved over the top- really moreish!
The final dish we prepared was actually the first one we were going to eat; Green Mango Salad with Chicken, a lovely refreshing salad in the scorching Cambodian heat. We simply used a serrated vegetable peeler to peel the unripe mango and carrot which we mixed with sliced chicken breast, deseeded slices of tomato, a leafy green local spinach, sweet basil leaves, garlic and shallots. This was dressed with palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice with extra salt, pepper and red chilli to taste and it was ready to eat!
Whilst none of the dishes we prepared were particularly difficult the class was still a lot of fun and Narang was an excellent teacher, funny and engaging. Less than a week after returning to the UK my friend has been sending me images of his Fish Amok skills which I suppose must be testament to the success of the class! Personally, I would have preferred to do a market tour as opposed to the village tour but then it would not have been a Countryside Cooking experience which would, I suppose, have defeated the object of the morning but all in all it was a huge amount of fun
Countryside Cooking Class $22 per person
Pre Booking Essential