Angkor Hot!

Oh, my, the days of travel without children! We do so much! The last three days have been very full, fulfilling and diverse…

Wednesday we did the cooking class in Bangkok at Baipai – what a delectable experience that was. We learned the relative merits of tapioca over corn flour, how to make our own fresh coconut milk, and a particular favourite, how to make tom kah gai, the world’s best soup. We were taught to slap your mashed fish mix to make puffy fish cakes (Stuart, oddly, apparently didn’t do enough slapping…), that the predominant flavour to emphasise in tom kah gai (chicken galangal soup) is sour (the others being sweet, salty & spicy) and you don’t even have to cook the chilies, just bash them a little and pop them in at the end, and that the best way to check if your oil is hot enough for deep frying in the wok is to put a wooden skewer in and wait for bubbles. Oh, and we ate… mmmmm.

A classic Bangkok Bladerunner-esque cab ride along the raised tollways back to the Novotel Suvarnabhumi landed us in style on the biggest bed we have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. I think it was nearly twice as big as our king back home, and we slept like angels in the so-called city of.

Yesterday was the surreal meeting with our fellow tourists of the National Geographic Expedition which we are now enjoying, with an early flight to Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor Wat. Siem Reap itself is a bizarre American outpost with an army of smiling Cambodians providing for our every need. The Grand Hotel D’Angkor, built by the French in 1929 and refurbished and upgraded in 1998, is a palatial and gracious remnant of the recent colonial past, overlayed with the intense consumerism (and associated prices) of the current predominance of American clientele. But as is always the case with Americans (and I can say whatever I want about this, since I am/have been one), they are all so nice. And as for those on our tour, they are well-travelled, mostly quite socially conscious and very interesting people. Mind you, most of them are also well over 65, and I’m pretty sure some are pushing 85. Stuart, Jodi and I are the novelties on the trip, but as usual, everyone is delighted to see us traveling with Ma and Dad, and indeed it is a pleasure and a privilege to all be together (we just miss Rhett & Shari!).

We’ve visited Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, the Bayon and today, a silk farm and artisan’s collective, and it has all been predictably gorgeous and inspiring, except for the crowds. We are not only traveling in a serious horde ourselves, everywhere we turn, we encounter ourselves exponentially. This does, unfortunately, have the effect of dampening our meditative capacity at these ancient ruins, but the temples are sufficiently incredible to sustain us. We do look forward to embarking on the boat tomorrow, in hopes of a bit more reflective space…

As for Cambodian (or Khmer) food, we finally had a beautiful meal of it today at Viloth’s in town. The green papaya salad was a perfect balance of sour and salty that we so adore (though it could have used more spice, as everything here is devoid of chili to please the westerners), the Amok fish (in coconut milk, lemon grass, basil and coriander) was an amazingly creamy yet delicate flavour sensation, and the Laab (minced pork, lemon grass, lemon, peanuts and coriander) was just completely out of this world – heaven. Tonight who knows how the food will be, but it is meant to be Khmer, whilst being enchanted by a performance of the celestial apsara dancers. I hope I find myself in about an hour exclaiming “nih ch’ngain nah” (this is delicious!).

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Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a farmer, meatsmith, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community.

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