Alvin’s Guide to Good Business

We don’t watch much TV here, but when we do it’s usually the BBC or France24. One show we chanced upon a few weeks back is Alvin’s Guide to Good Business. Alvin Hall was in India talking with IDE about drip irrigation. It’s fun watching him talk to social entrepreneurs in the developing world, especially when we recognize the country or city. The structure of the episode is in two sections. For the first section Alvin visits, learns about the business and makes some suggestions. Then he comes back six months later to track their progress for the second part of the show.

This morning’s episode was about Friends International, the organization behind Makphet in Laos and a number of projects in their headquarters of Phnom Penh. We had visited their shop in Phnom Penh, but had no idea just how many (tens of thousands of) street kids benefitted from the project every day.

Alvin, if you’re listening, you should talk to Babajob. Sean offers a great example of a “pioneer of innovations that benefit humanity.”

Dosa Corner

Rating:

With all due respect to Khmer food, Phnom Penh seemed like a great place to sample some international fare. We passed by Dosa Corner, in BKK1, during our walk down to Tuol Sleng, and decided that we would return later for dinner to satisfy our growing cravings for South Indian food.

The menu features a huge array of options, including many varieties of dosa that I had never encountered before. Ironically enough, we ordered 3 dishes, and none of them were dosas. Kenny was just dying for an idly, the waiter strongly recommended the kottu parota (a Tamil Nadu specialty), and we decided to round out the meal with a channa masala for some protein (even though we know this is more northern fare).

The kottu parota was good but certainly odd – it tasted like Indian pad see ew! We’re certainly spoiled for idlies after spending 6 weeks living across the street from Veena, but we enjoyed the PP rendition, especially the accompanying chutneys and sambar. The channa masala reminded me of the first channa masala I made when we were in Bangalore – which is not to say that it was bad, but it was very tomato-ey.

Overall, it was not an amazing dinner, but it helped indulge our South Indian nostalgia. It’s worth checking out if you’re in BKK1 and craving a dosa.

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Idlies

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Kottu parota – minced parota with egg, onion, and spices

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Dosa Corner
N. 5E, Pasteur (Street 51)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia 12302
+855 (0)12 673 276

Phnom-enal Bread

Sometimes it’s great to be in a former French colony, especially when it comes to bread. We’ve had tasty baguettes throughout Laos and Vietnam, usually with breakfast or in banh mi form. In Phnom Penh we found a boulangerie with the best bread we’ve had all year. Their country bread was crusty outside and beautifully chewy and yeasty inside with a tasty mix of whole grain flours.

We had to be at the airport by 7:30AM this morning, and so we decided to stop by after dinner last night to grab another loaf for breakfast. It was then that we discovered the boulangerie’s secret: a 62 year old very French baker.

Henry Marguet runs L’Ami du Pain Bakery as part of Open Wine, located behind the Royal Palace on Street 19 along with a retail wine shop, a boucherie, a charcuterie, and a restaurant. Definitely worth a stop when you’re in Phnom Penh.

Country bread
Yummy country bread

Bread on display
Spoiled for choice

Open Wine
No. 219, Street 19, Behind Royal Palace
Phnom Penh 12206
Cambodia
+855 023 223 527

Daily, 7AM-11PM (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Little Vid does Cambodia

Here are a few shots from Little Vid’s adventures in Cambodia. The full Little Vid archive is here.

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Little Vid hanging out with her buddy Hanuman at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

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Little Vid offering the nagas a temporary extra head

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Little Vid standing guard over Kenny while he catches a quick nap at the National Museum in Phnom Penh

Chill

Rating:

While in Kampot, the owner of Rikitikitavi gave us a copy of AsiaLIFE Cambodia, a local expat magazine. In it was an article, Cometh the Ice Cream,  about ice cream in Phnom Penh. We hadn’t seen any compelling ice cream since Romy’s in Nha Trang, but there was a good-looking option in the article called Chill. It also happens to be located a few blocks down the street from our hotel.

We first stopped by Chill on the way to dinner yesterday. Originally we were just going to take a look, but looking led to a tasting of chocolate, green tea, vanilla, and passion fruit. Tasting led to a pre-dinner treat of chocolate and coconut. The article had in particular raved about Chill’s chocolate, and with good reason. It had a good, creamy texture and was in the dark chocolate camp, which I love. It also did not taste like cocoa powder as can often be the case. Certainly the best chocolate I’ve had in southeast Asia. The coconut was a nice complement, but it could have been creamier and was inferior to Romy’s coconut.

Chill's ice cream display

Tonight we were back for possibly our last ice cream in Southeast Asia (I’m not holding my breath for border town ice cream). After yesterday’s tastes we had already decided that we would have green tea and vanilla tonight. But since we were encouraged to try other flavors, we also tried mint chocolate chip, and cappuccino. The article had called the mint chocolate chip a “standout”, but I thought it was one of Chill’s weaker flavors, as was the cappuccino (not enough coffee flavor for my taste). We went ahead with our original green tea with vanilla plan, and it was a delicious combination. Overall, a good way to start our three month break from ice cream!

Lauren enjoying vanilla and green tea
Green tea + vanilla = happiness

Chill
219D Sisowath Quay
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
+855 092 547 534

Daily: 11AM-midnight

Tuol Sleng

After lunch, we spent our afternoon reflecting on the terrible events of Cambodia’s recent past at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. When the Khmer Rouge were in power, this former high school was turned into S-21, one of Pol Pot’s secret prisons that were used to torture and interrogate anyone the regime felt like persecuting. In 1979 after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power it was turned into a genocide museum.

There are five buildings in the complex. The first two are cleaned up but mostly intact illustrations of the living conditions of the prisoners. The others house various exhibits about life in Cambodia throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. There’s also an hour-long movie that covers the life of a female Cambodian in her early twenties as she was captured, raped, released, re-captured, tortured, and finally killed in S-21.

It’s a sobering place, and provides vivid images of how scary and miserable insane dictatorships can be. There were the security regulations, with items such as:  “Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me,” “while getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all,” and, at the end of the list, “if you don’t follow all of the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.” Of the 17,000 or so that were imprisoned at S-21, only twelve survived.

While it was a pretty emotional visit, Tuol Sleng is at the top of my list of recommendations if you are visiting Phnom Penh. It’s provides a good mix of frank, scary history and optimism for the future, and helps you begin to understand the times that shaped the psyche of today’s Cambodians.

Tuol Sleng
Building A. The buildings surround a courtyard where the gallows were placed. Prisoners were tied and hung upside down until they passed out, at which point they were lowered, head-first into a filthy bucket of water.

Prison room
One of the typical prison rooms – no mattresses, and prisoners were latched down so they couldn’t walk around

Pictures of prisoners
The Khmer Rouge were surprisingly meticulous in their documentation of their secret prison program. Many Cambodians have used this display to identify missing relatives.

Great Leap Forward
The delusional Great Leap Forward

Cambodian Capital Culture Consumption

We spent the morning checking out two of PP’s main tourist attractions: the Royal Palace and the National Museum. Lonely Planet insisted that long sleeves were required for the Royal Palace, which was not only incorrect but also extremely inconvenient as it was a very, very hot day.

Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace is nice, but honestly skippable if you’ve already seen the one in Bangkok, which is more impressive (if also gaudier). It was, however, a nice quiet haven in this loud city, and we arrived early enough that there weren’t too many tourists impeding our photography. Interestingly, both the palaces in Phnom Penh and Bangkok feature scale replicas of Angkor Wat, although Bangkok’s is much larger.

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Bayon-style heads atop a spire

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I was inspired to sing the teapot song

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Kenny reading about the royal buildings surrounding him

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Scale replica of Angkor Wat, surprisingly smaller than the one in Bangkok

After the Royal Palace, we made our way to the National Museum all the way across the street. The impressive Khmer-style red building houses a wide selection of Angkorian and pre-Angkorian sculpture. It was interesting to see after having been to Angkor Wat two years ago, as it helped put some of the temples we had seen into context historically. No photos allowed inside, but we snapped a few in the courtyard.

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One of my favorite things about the National Museum was the building itself

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Lotus

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Museum courtyard

Palm Fruit

During the drive from Kampot to Phnom Penh, we spotted a street vendor selling palm fruit, and our driver was kind enough to stop so we could purchase some. We had first tried it at Angkor Wat two years ago, and wanted to refresh our memories. Before that trip to Cambodia, I didn’t even know that palm trees bore fruit; in fact only the Cambodian palm does! The Cambodian palm does grow in a few other places besides Cambodia, such as India, where it is used to make an expensive form of jaggery. The other exciting fact that I recently learned about the Cambodian palm is that it is the official tree of Tamil Nadu, where Little Vid is from.

But I digress. Fortunately for us, the ladies selling the fruit had already removed it from its hard shell and conveniently packed it in a bag. Our driver advised us to eat it cold, so we waited until after we arrived in Phnom Penh and gave the fruit some time to chill in our refrigerator before we performed the taste test.

Honestly, the thick jelly-like fruit doesn’t taste like much of anything, but it is cool and refreshing and ever so slightly sweet. We enjoyed it in our morning yogurt, and it added some nice texture.

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Our taxi driver helping Kenny choose a bag of palm fruit

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Palm fruits on display

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Palm fruit flesh + skin

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Peeling off the skin so that we can eat the inner flesh

Ta Eou

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Kampot’s local specialties involve pepper and seafood. The best place to sample both is at Ta Eou, on the riverfront near the old bridge. Our first night in town we stopped by for dinner. The restaurant is a like a big covered back porch with an array of red tablecloth covered tables. The menu does not have any prices, and when we asked about this we were told “everything is $4.” Reasonable enough, even surprisingly low given how much seafood was on the menu. Unlimited rice is included with every dish, served out of large silver vessels by roaming wait staff.

While we were flipping through the extensive menu, we were given some lightly sweetened roasted peanuts to munch on. Our first dish was an easy decision: crab with Kampot peppercorns, Ta Eou’s most popular dish. We were served an entire crab which had been pre-cracked in targeted places for us. While it was difficult to get to all of the meat (which we expected), we were in pepper heaven. We dug for every crevice of crabmeat and used our rice to soak up every last drop of green onion/peppercorn sauce.

Our second dish was fried fish with ginger. While the Khmer name was probably more descriptive, ordering such an English description was a bit of a gamble as the “XXX with ginger” dishes can often be bland and boring. I needn’t have worried though. We were served freshly pan fried fish fillet pieces with lots of ginger and onions in a very well spiced sauce. Good thing we love ginger!

Today we returned to Ta Eou for our final lunch in Kampot. This time we ordered the shrimp with Kampot peppercorns along with a repeat of the ginger fish. As with our experience at Coconut Grove, the shrimp were a lot less work and tasty as well, though not as delicious as the crab.

Overall, the food at Ta Eou is fantastic, very cheap, and run by very friendly Cambodians. As a bonus, free extras are thrown in left and right, from the peanuts to the unlimited rice, to a plate of fresh bananas given to you with the check. If you’re near Kampot, definitely stop by Ta Eou!

Crab with peppercorns
Crab with Kampot pepper

Fish with ginger
Stir fried fish with ginger

Shrimp with peppercorns
Shrimp with Kampot pepper

peanuts bananas
Extra goodies included in each meal

Relaxing by the river
Chilling by the river

Ta Ou
River Road, Riverfront
Kampot, Cambodia
+855 33 932422

Daily: 10:00AM-2:00PM (Lunch), 6:00PM-10:00PM (Dinner)

Kampot Pepper

If someone has heard of Kampot, Cambodia, it’s likely because of Kampot pepper. Kampot province is rich in salt and pepper cultivation, and has been praised so highly that in the early 1900s it was said that any table in Paris worth their salt would have Kampot pepper.

We’ve had delicious stir-fries with Kampot pepper while in Cambodia, and acquiring some to take home was firmly on my agenda for our day of exploring. But I didn’t want to just get some dodgy gift bag of unknown provenance. On our little Kampot map I saw an item marked “Kampot Farm Link”. It was away from the main drag; not far from the Kampot Prison, we took a right down a dirt alley and came upon a little house with pallets of black pepper drying in the 35C-degree sun:

Kampot Farm Link

Kampot black pepper drying in the sun

Kampot black pepper

A young girl who didn’t speak any English motioned for us to wait a few minutes and disappeared. A few minutes later a man drove up in a motorbike and invited us inside. This Kampot Farm Link building serves mainly as a sorting, packaging, and distribution facility for pepper. We got the sense that tourists don’t usually make it over here. Our host, Sok Lim, was very friendly and was excited to explain to us the entire process from cultivation to drying to packaging.

We learned that there are four types of pepper: green, white, red, and black. Green pepper is the fresh fruit of the pepper vine used in restaurants in Cambodia and southern Thailand to make the aforementioned delicious stir-fries; it’s not available for export, as it will go bad within a week.

The other three types are dried variations of the same pepper plant, and Sok let us sample each type of peppercorn so that we could taste the difference. Black pepper is the most common form produced, and what we saw outside of the facility. Red pepper is dried using the same process as black pepper, but the peppercorns are sourced from the smaller, more intense peppercorns at the top of the plant. As a result, red pepper is rarer, spicier (and pricier) than black pepper. Finally, white pepper is black pepper that has been soaked in water until the black husk is dissolved. White pepper has a softer flavor and doesn’t linger as long on the palate.

The pepper from Kampot Farm Link is hand-sorted, and only the highest quality corns are used. Sok gave us examples of export vs. non-export quality corns. The export-quality ones are larger, richer in color, and almost perfectly round. He then demoed the packaging process. Once separated, the peppercorns are weighed, put into 100g, 500g, or 1kg bags, and vacuum sealed by an impressive piece of machinery (unfortunately it was too dark for a clean picture).

Quality control
Quality control

We also learned that right now more “Kampot pepper” is sold than the Kampot region produces, and there is a lot of fraud in this market. The Cambodian government is trying to combat this, and is working on getting its first origin-specific label (GI, or geographical indications) for pepper from Kampot province. Then, just like Champagne in France, it would be illegal to market any other type of pepper as “Kampot pepper”.

While there’s not much in the way of retail presence here, they do allow for direct sales, and we acquired some of each type of pepper. We also picked up a recipe card for Kampot Peppercorn Ice Cream that we’ll have to try after we return to Seattle.

Buying Kampot pepper in Kampot
Picture of my pepper purchases