Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cooking in Cambodia

Since I had more days than I probably needed in Phnom Penh, I decided to sign up for a cooking class.  I had heard that cooking classes were a great thing to try while traveling, so I thought why not give it a shot?

My class started around 9:00, but we didn't jump right into the cooking, but instead our first matter of business was making a stop at the local market to buy the food we needed for the day.

The market was full of hustle and bustle as local people bought all types of meats, vegetables, and fruits.  Our teacher gave us a tour of the market and stopped to show us all kinds of fruits and vegetables I've never even seen before.  However, the most striking part was the fish section in which the women working there grabbed fish that were still wiggling around and promptly cut their heads off, then continued to remove the scales...not exactly appetizing, but I guess someone has to do it.

Korea also has a lot of outdoor markets, but in this market I especially kept thinking about how this market would probably never pass a health inspection in America, as there were flies flying around on all of the food, especially the meat, which was just left sitting outside unrefrigerated.  It's quite the contrast to walking into a grocery store in America, but I always enjoy walking through local markets.

After we finished at the market, we went the facility for our class.  It was a really nice rooftop kitchen, where we all had our own stations.

We started by making spring rolls with a sweet and sour sauce.  They were SO good, and not too difficult to make.

Next we made fish amok in a banana leaf bowl.  Amok is one of the most famous dishes in Cambodia, and it was definitely my favorite thing I ate while I was there.  It's pretty much like a curry with coconut, and is something I'll hopefully be able to recreate one day.  

Making the amok was a little difficult because we had to grind all of the ingredients with a mortar and pestle.  Our teacher made it look easy, but it definitely didn't take long for my arm to start hurting. I think if I used the mortar and pestle more frequently I'd definitely have some wonderfully toned arms.  

All of our creations cooking.

After we ate our amok, those who only singed up for half a day left.  It was only me and one other girl who signed up for the whole day, so for our last dishes it was a smaller crowd.  

Next we made Pomelo salad.  The pomelo is like a grapefruit, to which we added shrimp, mint leaves, peanuts, peppers, and a sauce.  I never would have thought to mix all of these ingredients together, but it tasted awesome. 

The last thing we made was a pumpkin custard.  This was easy to make as we just mixed some ingredients together, cut a hole in a pumpkin, put the liquid inside of the hole, then let it cook. 

This was SO good as well, and definitely something I would make again!

Once we finished class the other girl and I who were left spent some time talking to our teacher.  She is around 30 years old and not married.  She told us that she will never get married because in Cambodia if a girl gets married, she will get married around 18 years old.  Now that she is 30, she is too old.  Instead, she teaches the cooking class everyday, then goes to an English school for a few hours, then directly heads to another job at a restaurant until around midnight.  She said now her main priority is taking care of her mother, so she never really has any free time.

As we talked she said that she would love to travel, but it just isn't possible because she needs to be constantly working just to survive.  I was shocked to learn that she has never even been to Siem Reap and never seen Angkor Wat with her own eyes.

I couldn't help but wonder what she thinks of all the tourists who flock to Cambodia.  I couldn't help but feel a little guilty because there I was, an American 25 year old, who had already seen Angkor Wat, when this woman who has lived in Cambodia for her entire life has never even seen it--and maybe never will.

Talking to this teacher was a good reminder of just how insanely lucky I am to be able to travel.  People in Cambodia (and many, many other countries) work from morning until very late at night just to survive.  Meanwhile, I complain all too often about my job that requires me to work eight hours a day, pays me well, and gives me vacation time. When you talk to people who are working so hard just to survive on so little, your privilege glares back at you like a bright light in such a way that you wonder how you manage to take it for granted so often.

Overall, I had a good time at the cooking class, and getting to talk to our teacher about life in Cambodia was just another plus for the day.  If I ever have extra time in another country, I would definitely give another cooking class a try.

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