My Hilarious Experience Trying Local Food In Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Dining one night in the street of Phnom Penh

Planning a DIY trip is always fun. You would never know what awaits, what to expect, what will happen, you only have a foresight of thrill, of discovering things on your own.

All my trips abroad were DIY travels and all have hilarious stories to tell. 

Discovering Cambodia's capital

When I first stepped out to the streets of Phnom Penh three years ago, I was surprised to see how Cambodia is still lagging behind in modernity. Theirs is still a city of contrast to urban living. Simple, quiet, plain and a bit dark.

Something I understood anyway since this country has been isolated from the rest of the world for years. Its prime minister, Pol Pot, started a crazy regime called Khmer Rouge in 1970s, a kind of regime described as paranoid, xenophobic, extremely brutal and repressive. 

He jailed opposition and started a killing rampage on his political opponents. Cambodia was plunged into darkness. Its people were forced to move back to the countryside and endured a life in massive poverty.  When the country was liberated by the Vietnamese from persecution of mad governance, it was a bit late.

Scrambling to catch up with economic growth, and bridging foreign relations, Cambodia saw itself struggled in almost all facets in life. From education to foreign trade, social development to their over all lifestyle. In fact, their currency was largely devalued it was a bit hard to find money changer outlets in the Philippines and Vietnam selling Cambodian Riel.

This painful truth of being underdeveloped is nagging all over Cambodia. Throughout the suburbs, the countryside, the city streets. During our visit in 2015 (with my two friends), fear was lurking behind. The streets were dark and establishments looked spooky. 

Most locals couldn't speak nor understand English. There was a lot of whistling going around that if by chance we would take a wrong turn, we might be finished 😀.

Dining at Phnom Penh's street

Goods were cheaper for foreigners but not for locals. I could see they struggled a lot financially and when it comes to earning a living, it was difficult. Most of them didn't attend school. But there was something about Cambodians that makes me appreciate their culture. Their smile and their very warm personality.

Everywhere, locals were ready to give their best shot to accommodate foreigners whenever we ask for a direction. Though I could feel their inferiority towards foreigners, perhaps due to their inability to speak English, they were welcoming and gave their best smile. This was evident when we had dinner at a local eatery.

Trying local food stall at Phnom Penh

Extremely hungry due to our long hours of land travel from Saigon, Vietnam, plus the challenge of looking for a money changer outlet, we were literally desperate to have dinner. 

We walked on the first dining place we saw. And because we wanted to try the  local dish, we resolved to order what's on the local menu that was thoroughly Cambodian.

It was a bit struggle trying to emphasize what we wanted, or at least asked what's in the menu. Inquiring the exact price per plate complicates the situation so we ended up communicating through a sign language. It sounded funny. 

But when you're hungry you would never mind the inconveniences. Rowie was less than impress but I was enthusiastic 😄

So we were offered with a dish that was so literally foreign. A soft jelly rolled into what looked like a flour paste topped with tofu and sprinkled with shallots. 

The order came with a free tea. My two friends were hesitant to take the food but I was ecstatic. Not because I was bloody hungry, but because I was very excited to feed my gourmand adventure hankering.

While my two friends cringed in dissatisfaction, I was overwhelmed with this food discovery. My taste bud is very oriental and this food appeared to be thoroughly oriental. And trying local dishes has been part of my goal as a gourmand traveler, naturally I find this mysterious dish one for the book.

The owners were very accommodating, giving us their warmest smile even though they kept on scratching their heads when I asked them what's the name of the food. 

It was so difficult. Incredibly difficult to communicate with them. Struggle with language barrier was real 😂 And we left the place without getting a clear answer over the name of the food we've just eaten.

Until now I am searching the exact name of this dish. The only clear explanation I've got from the lady was that this food actually originated from Vietnam, thus, known locally as a Vietnamese dish. But the exact local term was blown off in the wind 😆. 

So if anybody knows the name of this fantastic dish, kindly comment below. Or give us a message in our facebook page  Gourmand Travel Guide Thank you!!!

For the expanded version of the story of my Phnom Penh travel experience, and what you need to know about taking precautions when going to Cambodia, please visit this link: A Day in Phnom Penh

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