The World Cup and the Festival of Futbol

With the FIFA World Cup taking over televisions everywhere, I can’t help but remember my own partaking in a similar festival two years ago, when the EuroCup was being held in Poland and Ukraine, and I was living in Gdansk, one of the host cities.

It was phenomenal being part of something as multi-cultural as the EuroCup, but more importantly, it was also an opportunity for the country to learn, improve, evolve, and do some serious armchair travel. Continue reading The World Cup and the Festival of Futbol

Ever Seen Fresh Rice Noodles Being Made?

Our tuk tuk driver had pulled over to the side of the road and was now staring back at us expectantly, waiting for an answer.

Because the last ten minutes of the ride had been spent much of the same way, but with questions more along the lines of “How do you put an elephant in the fridge?” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

Finally, Dan sputtered, “Uh…yeah? Well…no…”
“Do you want to?”
“What?”
And off we went down the streets of Battambang.

We pulled up to the back of a house where a woman sat on a bamboo deck amidst various bowls and baskets. She was repeatedly dipping her hands into a bowl of soapy water, pulling out wet white strings and folding them neatly into a banana leaf lining.

Woman folding rice noodles. Battambang, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
Woman folding rice noodles

What we were looking at was effectively a homespun noodle making factory, and as she and her husband silently continued to work, our tuk tuk driver ‘David’ explained to us the process of making fresh rice noodles.

The first step is to grind the rice into meal. Then you want to strain the meal, clean it, and put it into bags and compress it. The next step is to cook it, and once cooked, to pound the meal until it’s sticky. Then? Knead the meal by hand until it’s even stickier.

Rice into noodles.
Rice into noodles.

Strain the sticky meal through a press into the noodle ‘shape’ that we’re familiar with (above), and then hand wash the noodles – a process with multiple bowls with varying types (or levels perhaps) of soap. Finally, rinse the noodles one last time, and fold.

The couple that we were fortunate to see has been doing this for years (I can’t recall now but I would venture to guesstimate at at least two decades), and would originally go to the local market in Battambang to sell it.

Man cleaning rice noodles.
Man cleaning rice noodles.

However, the quality of their noodles was so consistently high, that eventually restaurants and other re-sellers (like street vendors) that had become loyal customers began coming to them directly.

They now no longer have to go to the market to sell their stock of noodles but receive daily orders which they fulfill without having to leave the house.

Rice noodles!
Rice noodles!

As they seem to supply most of the customers in the area, I’m not sure how they ever sleep – the couple can sell up to a 100 kilograms of rice noodles a day!

Other Things to do in Phnom Penh

One of the complaints I heard during my short stay in Phnom Penh was that there was nothing to do in the city other than drink. But Phnom Penh offers a long riverside for strolling, cafes and lounges for relaxing, and the options and venues below for nights out, too.

1. If you’re feeling posh, Nagaworld is a hotel and entertainment complex that oozes glitz, and the lobby is first and foremost a sweeping casino. You’ll find everything from Roulette to Baccarat, old standbys like Texas Hold ‘Em and Blackjack, as well as a few foreign games in between (note: no Craps!). Different tables have different minimums so you can choose your level of fun.

Ferris wheel, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - YourLocalKat2. DreamLand – You can’t miss the 45 meter ferris wheel looking out onto Chaktomuk River. Inside this amusement park, there’s also a maze, coaster, a dinosaur garden, a variety of shows and more. Open 9:00-22:00 everyday. Tickets start from $2USD for ‘big kids’.

3. Whether you’re in the mood for action or education, one of the four main movie theaters is sure to please. Expat-favorite Flicks screens blockbusters and classics at three different theaters for $3.50 a day. Open-air MetaHouse plays Cambodian and international documentaries for free almost everyday. And premiere theatres Legend Cinemas and Sabay Complex both feature Hollywood and Asian blockbuster movies starting at $4.

4. Check out some live music. The Show Box by the Toul Sleng Museum sporadically puts on shows, as do other venues like the FCC, the Local II and MetaHouse (above). Check the Leng Pleng Gig Guide for more info.

So, what is there to do in Phnom Penh? The question is – what are you in the mood for?

Photo of the Week: Window Shopping in Kep Market

Kep Market is located along the main 33A road that runs through Kep, about 5 kilometers past the infamous crab market, and is essentially one of Kep’s more popular ‘malls.’

Eggs. Kep market, Cambodia - YourLocalKat

Here, you’ll be able to find clothes, albeit frilly, very colorful, one-of-a-kind, patterned ones that might actually look like pajamas or something you would not let your 15 year old wear outside of the house.

All sorts of runners wrapped in cellophane can be bought for just a couple of dollars, as can ‘therapeutic’ and regular flip flops, all for cheap. Jewellery that blings and blinds? Fake plastic purses? Wool caps to wear in the summer? You’ll find those here, too.

Clothes shopping, Kep market, Cambodia - YourLocalKatMixed in with the clothing are storage-grade shelves full of oils, pastes and condiments. In boxes and crates on the floor are packaged snacks like no-name brand cookies and candies and chips.

Oils, pastes, and condiments. Kep market, Cambodia - YourLocalKat Beside those? Cigarettes, shampoo and children’s toys, and around the corner, fresh vegetables, waffles made to order, and raw meat.

Groceries at Kep market, Cambodia - YourLocalKatMarkets in Cambodia are all fairly similar, even in the tourist towns, but in little Kep on the southern coast, all traces of typical keepsakes are gone; the most prominent souvenirs you’ll be able to find are woven string bracelets that say ‘Cambodia’ on one of the tables at the crab market. But if you want to really remember Kep, come to the market to witness the local life.

Then you can do as the locals do: grab some cold soup and then window shop.

The Kep Crab Market: The Specialty of Kep

Kep is a humble little town in southern Cambodia. Situated right on the coast, it enjoys a variety of delicious seafood, but is known largely for one specialty: the amazing fresh crab from the infamous Kep crab market.

Crab basket, Kep, Cambodia - YourLocalKatThe crab market isn’t much more than a hundred square feet, part covered, part not, at a pier that runs parallel to the shore. This is where the women, fishermen’s wives and other family, clean the caught crab, package it up and ready it for vending.

Fishermen's wives packing crab. Kep crab market, Cambodia - YourLocalKatOther women sit at the tables prepared in the square selling the crab, fresh or grilled, along with mouth-watering squid and shrimp and fish, served with rice and ready to eat. Among them are women frying pastries – waffles and cakes made from batter, sesame and sugar, as well as tables loaded with pepper, the other specialty in the area, in various colors and sizes and packs.

Crab Market, Kep, CambodiaAt other stands still, the women smile and show off plastic knickknacks and toys, feather dolls, shells, and jewelry: the perfect place to get a souvenir of woven wood and sea shell bracelets, particularly fitting and prominent in this beach side town.

Bracelets bought at the crab market. Kep, Cambodia - YourLocalKatRight beside the market runs a sidewalk lined with restaurants that open out to the gulf. They all have nearly identical menus with rice and noodles, and fish and squid and crab and shrimp (for $5!!), and are a wonderful way to hide from the sun or watch it set over the water, and let the time go by.

Fried fish, Kep crab market, Cambodia - YourLocalKatThe market remains open until late afternoon as the local women do their shopping for the day, their sound a steady seagull caw covering the whole market, hawking and negotiating and buying and chatting and inspecting.

The crab market is life as it is lived here, a peek into the inner workings of this society, a snapshot of resources, tourism, and culture.

It’s not just the deliciousness of the crab – touched but not yet spoiled by tourism, it is the raw authenticity of the market, the genuine friendliness of the people, and the humbleness, the humbleness of this life – that is the specialty of Kep.

Fishing boat anchored near Kep crab market, Cambodia - YourLocalKat