Saturday, October 29, 2011

BBQing in Siem Reap, Cambodia (frogs, croc, snake, galore!)

While travelling in Asia this Fall, my favorite city was Siem Reap in Cambodia. After getting scammed in Saigon and Bangkok, I realized that the safe, quaint, friendly city of Siem Reap was my most memorable stop. I spent many hours sitting on the sidewalk patio of bars, sipping wine, people watching and munching on food. It all felt very Indochine. It is very tourist friendly yet has the charm of an old French colonial town. It's also convenient that almost everything is priced in USD, so you are not left with a bunch of foreign currency at the end of your trip. Even ATMs dispense USD.

My favorite part of the town is its popular Pub Street which houses a bunch of bars and restaurants. It caters to an older crowd, and did not seem like a collegiate scene.

One of my favorite Cambodian street food is their BBQ. There are many makeshift stands on Pub Street that serve up freshly grilled fare. It's the perfect post-boozing food.

I went with a chicken wing and frog which cost only $1 per piece. Definitely a steal. I was very surprised that they served the whole frog! I was expecting only the legs. Even though I've had my fare share of frog legs and other exotic meats, I was actually a bit terrified to take the first bite. But once I got over the the fact that I was eating frog that actually looked like a frog, I realized what a delicious piece of grilled meat this was. Tender, juicy with lots of bones to chew around.

When we were on Pub Street, we noticed a lot of Cambodian BBQ signs, so we decided to check it out for lunch the following day. There were many options but we opted for the restaurant with a nice patio seating area and fans (it's humid there!)

Cambodian BBQ Restaurant also caught our eye because of its exotic menu. It was also very affordable at $15.50 for two people, and you are allowed to substitute two meats.

Garlic bread to start.

A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc goes with anything.

We were koo-koo for spring rolls on our entire trip in Vietnam and Cambodia, so this was a requisite order. Freshly fried with pork and vegetable filling. The nuoc mam dipping sauce is always such a great compliment.

Being the adventurous souls we are, we opted for the snake, kangaroo, frog, crocodile and squid. Ok, the last one wasn't unique but how can you pass up on grilled seafood? I liked the little pictorial signs that show you what meats they were.

They also served fresh yellow noodles, vegetables and pumpkin, which are cooked in the chicken broth.

The waiter actually started to grill these for us, so we just sat back and enjoyed our wine.

A slab of pork fat was used to grease up the grill. The snake was surprisingly a bit tough but fell apart easily.The crocodile was also a tad chewy. I've definitely had better croc in Oz. My favorite was the frogs leg which was juicy. Love chewing off that tiny cartilage between the bones. The kangaroo tasted like beef but much leaner. Finally, the squid grilled up nicely but it kept slipping off the grill and falling into the broth. The meats were served with an array of sauces. Seafood paired the best with the cilantro sauce, which was my favorite. The tamarind and pepper sauce were also pretty good.

After all the meats were gone, we moved to the noodle and vegetable soup that was infused with all the meat juices.

The best part of our meal was the bill, at $40 for two which included wine. Overall, the meats are not of the best quality, but it was a fun experience to sample some grilled exotic meats.

Cambodian BBQ Restaurant
Le passage Alley and Pub Street,
Siem Reap, Cambodia 855

Friday, October 28, 2011

Scenes from Siem Reap, Cambodia

Here are some non-food photos of my favorite city on this Southeast Asia trip.

Our hotel, the Golden Banana Resort was just a short walk to Pub Street. It thought it was clean, up-to-date in decor, and the hotel employees were friendly and helpful.

Our room was comfortable, and was located poolside.

Even though I am not much of a sightseer, I dragged myself to the temples. Our personal guide, Bunvath, spoke good English, picked us up in a tuk tuk (complete with supply of cold bottled water), and took us on a tailored tour of the temples. BTW, the tour cost US$25 for the both of us and another $20 for the tuk tuk. Best deal ever!

I liked that the temples are located pretty close to the town center. Angkor Wat was only a couple minutes away on tuk tuk.

Our first stop was the fortress city of Angkor Thom.

The Bayon Temple is located in the center of the city of Angkor Thom. It is known for the stone faces carved in the towers. The elephant ride around the temple was pretty cool. We got to feed our elephant some bananas afterwards.

Our next temple was Ta Prohm, also known as the temple where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed.

The massive trees growing out of the temples were a sight to see.

Last but not least, we stopped at Angkor Wat, the most famous temple.

Siem Reap is such a magical place that still holds its charm. The locals were friendly and we felt very safe in the city. No one tried to scam us here, and everyone was welcoming.

Airport food can be decent- Singaporean food at the Saigon Airport

When we were at the Saigon Airport (which by the way is very clean and modern) waiting for our flight to Cambodia, I couldn’t help but pop into Prima Taste when I saw the banner promoting Singapore food. As a Singaporean, my standards for the cuisine is very high, but I was willing to lower it knowing that we were eating at a chain restaurant at the airport.

Curry puff was cooked to order (it was piping hot).

This was probably my favorite of the dishes. I just can’t get enough of curry puff and it’s pretty hard to find here in LA, let alone one that tastes good. The pastry was buttery and flaky. Inside, you’ll find a nice mix of curried chicken, potatoes and hard boiled eggs. Tasted exactly like Old Chang Kee.

The laksa was decent, but tasty for airport standards. There was a good amount of tau pok (deep fried tofu), fish cakes, shrimp and even cockles, although the latter was kind of measly looking. I only wished that the soup was served hotter (both in temperature and in spice level).

Beef kway teow actually didn’t taste anything like kway teow. Yes, there was beef, bean sprouts and fish cake, but this tasted more like pad see ew. It was missing spice and some fatty Chinese sausage. It wasn’t bad by any means, but just not what I was expecting.

Of course you have to take the food here with a grain of salt. It's not supposed to really be "authentic" Singaporean food. You'll be disappointed if you try to compare this (in price, spice and taste) to the hawker centers in Singapore. But if you are craving Singaporean food in Vietnam, and you have time to kill at the airport, this is probably the best airport food stand around.

Prima Taste
Ho Chi Minh Airport

Friday, October 14, 2011

Nha Hang Ngon in Saigon, Vietnam

After a couple days of street food in Saigon, we decided to “treat” ourselves to a proper dinner at a restaurant on our last night. Nha Hang Ngon is a popular restaurant is in District 1 (the town center) so it was an easy walk from our hotel.

During our stay in Saigon, we realized that wine (regular, not rice wine) was really hard to find. Beer on the other hand, was prevalent and cheap. Thankfully, we were able to order a bottle of white at the restaurant.

We were seated in the lovely courtyard area right when we first entered through the front doors. It overlooked the street and was a great spot for people watching. The restaurant was busy and bustling.

There are actual hawker-type stalls on the perimeter of the restaurant. I say hawker-type because you don’t walk up and order from the stalls, you order from the waitress when you sit down. The menu is fairly expansive with many pages of Vietnamese dishes.

Banh Beo, Bot Loc, Nem Nuong
Banh Meo is steamed rice cakes. The menu described this to be served with dumplings and grilled pork meatball. The dumplings here were actually not what I expected. They were stuffed with shrimp but were kind of flat and gelatinous. It actually tasted really good and wasn’t gummy. The pork meatballs were cylindrical rather than ball shaped. Lots of flavor there. The whole dish was fairly spicy and cooked with lots of fish sauce.

Oc Buou Nhoi Thit, Nam Gung
The snail shells were stuffed with minced pork, snail (which I couldn’t actually tell were in there) and vermicelli noodles, all of which were seasoned with ginger and fish sauce. The meat balls were lean and juicy and had a nice lemongrass flavor. It was quite fun to use a chopstick to get every piece of meat out of the shells.

Bun tre
Vermicelli noodles were served with tre which combines pork ear, alpinia (some exotic plant) and garlic. The cartilage was crunchy which made me realize that they must have sourced a lot of pigs because there were a lot of ears..

Mi Xao Thap Cam
This stir fried noodles was topped with pork liver, heart, kidney and vegetables.

I really loved the offaly flavors, especially the kidneys. The vegetables were actually pretty tasty, similar to Chinese broccoli.

Nha Hang Ngon is a good place to check out if you are fine with a touristy place. It’s great for a nice sit down dinner, if you want something different than sidewalk street food, and if you are looking for a clean place to sit. There are lots of dishes to sample, the portions were fairly large and the prices were pretty decent. Of course the prices can’t compare to the mom and pop shops, but our bill still came out to be US$15 per person including a bottle of wine, which was half the bill.

Nha Hang Ngon
160 Pasteur St,
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
84 8 3827 7131

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Street food in Saigon, Vietnam

The traffic in Saigon is quite terrifying. Pedestrians do not get the right of way as motorbikes whiz by you in herds. I was advised to just look ahead and walk in a natural pace across the street, and the bikes will somehow avoid you. It's the best advice I've ever gotten.

The traffic is not something that I'll miss, but the food on the other hand is memorable. Even though our cyclo (kind of like a tuk tuk) "tour" guide ripped us off by overcharging us, he did take us to an authentic pho place. We knew it was authentic because everyone were locals, no one spoke English and the prices were cheap. Once you stepped in, you could smell the aroma of the pho broth.

The table is set up with a variety of items including rice cakes, deep fried crullers and meat pies. At the end of the meal, the server will tally up what you ate and charge you accordingly. I sampled the crullers which were room temperature (they couldn’t compare to the ones freshly fried up from the hawker centers in Singapore).

I ordered my usual favorite type of pho - tripe and tendon. Loved the broth. It tasted and smelt rich but wasn't overwhelming.

My friend opted for the popular selection which included ground meat, flank steak and meatballs. Love the vibrant colors of the herbs.

Apart from pho, the next most popular Vietnamese item is the banh mi sandwich. A friend/tourguide suggested Nhu Lan, located in District 1. I was a bit concerned because firstly, it was located near our hotel so I assumed that he just picked the closest joint regardless of quality. Secondly, the banh mi sandwiches were already pre-made and wrapped up in plastic. Thirdly, there didn’t seem to be that many selections left by the time we got there.

However, the banh mi turned out to be rather delicious. We shared the classic banh mi which was stuffed with a selection of cold cuts including headcheese and ham. I really enjoyed the large serving of really spicy pickled vegetables, daikon and jalapeno. The French bread was really fresh and airy, and was slathered with a good amount of creamy pate and mayo. Not only was it delicious and very filling, but the sandwich also cost about a buck. You really can’t beat it.

Pho Hoa
260C Pasteur St.,
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
84 8 829 7943

Nhu Lan
66-68 Ham Nghi,
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
84 8 829 2970