A Cambodian Bug Encounter

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I’d known of this Cambodian place for a while but just never got round to trying it out until now. We started with a fairly standard pomelo salad that I thought tasted a bit too weird for my liking. While it had almost Thai flavours of fishy smoked fish, some sweet, some sour, and some chilli, it was fairly toned down in terms of the four standard flavours. There was a herb in it that I didn’t appreciate – it was a bit too earthy and bitter-smelling (though not actually tasting bitter at all), a bit like off garlic.

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The other starter was much better: steamed minced pork paste with preserved fish roe. It was very unusual, like a cross between a warm pate and meatloaf. I scooped spoonfuls of the smokey, fishy meat mixture onto the raw veggies and enjoyed the almost salted egg-like flavour. I never knew that eggplant could be eaten raw and I happily walloped the spongey vegetable with the meat. It went surprisingly well.

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DC saw the writeup on crickets and tarantulas on the wall and immediately wanted to try them. I told him I could probably stomach a cricket or two rather than a hairy spider leg so he ordered this off-menu. My heart sank when the deep-fried crickets arrived. The fellas were fried to a dark crisp – so much so that their carapaces were almost black, making them look like skinny cockroaches. Ewwww. Feeling slightly queasy, I attempted a few times to spear one with my fork but failed as the little buggers (literally!) were fried so hard and crisp they were impossible to spear. DC and I picked out one that looked least like cockroach and I gingerly ate its thorax and abdomen. Honestly, it didn’t taste like much aside from deep-fried. There was a very slightly sour aftertaste but not much. So there was half a cricket in my stomach and the other half – black and winged – still sitting on my plate. I hid it in my rice and hastily chewed it up, and swallowed. Then I looked up and saw DC calmly, and with great enjoyment, crunching up the rest of the plate of crickets. This is the reason why I’m a wuss and I’m with this very brave man with the appetite for adventure. If he can put up with bug-eating, who knows what other crap he can put up with!

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OK so enough with the wussing out – the last dish was their signature dish of fish amok. I’d tried it in Cambodia before and was expecting something thick yet still fluid, somewhat like Thai green curry. This version was like a non-spicy otak. The flavours were very similar and the fish was moulded in a slightly runny coconut custard. DC and I both liked the delicate flavours and the soft-firm texture of the fish. Thumbs up!

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We didn’t manage to get dessert as the banana sago dish I wanted wasn’t available. Service here is generally very sincere and warm, though slightly dopey and haphazard. Be patient with them and you’ll have a good experience.

Khmer Delight
922 East Coast Road
Tel: 6449 1529

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China Memories: Shaoxing Braised Pork

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Mum bought some preserved vegetable from Shaoxing. It’s called mei cai but is quite different from the type used in Hakka braised pork. This version is slightly fermented and has a lovely pungent, almost loamy mushroomy aroma. I braised using a slightly more Western technique by putting it in the oven for a long, slow braise. This  renders out a lot of the fat and makes for soft, yielding meat. It’s up to you if you want to do the hellish job of skimming the fat. I suggest just savouring the dish as is the first time round and put the leftovers in the fridge. The next morning, scrape off the white fat layer from the top.

I have no idea whether this is available outside China, but I suppose you could try using Hakka mei cai or any preserved leafy vegetables. It’s a very simple recipe, so use the best ingredients you can find.

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Ingredients:

600 g belly pork, skin and fat on
100 g Shaoxing mei cai
1 cup Shaoxing wine

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 150ºC and heat a casserole dish and lid to heat at the same time.
  2. Cut the pork into large chunks. Make sure you cut against the grain, pretend that you’re cutting out ginormous pieces of siu yok. Pat dry with some kitchen towel, especially the skin part.
  3. Heat a non-stick frying pan to the hottest you can and sear the pork on all sides, skin side down first. Be very careful as the skin will start to blister and pop and hiss and do all sorts of hair-raising (and hair-singeing) things. Be brave!
  4. Take out the casserole dish from the oven and transfer the seared pork inside.
  5. Now off the heat, deglaze the frying pan by pouring the wine in using one swift motion. It will boil but should not spit. Scrape the bottom of the pan so you get all the burnt and good-tasting bits off and pour the lot into the casserole dish.
  6. Add the mei cai and mix the whole lot around. Top up with some hot water if you need, till it just covers the meat.
  7. Cover the casserole dish and stick in the oven for three to four hours, depending on how impatient you are. After half an hour or so, check that the braise is bubbling gently. One or two bubbles per second is fine, just make sure it’s not boiling furiously (lower the oven temperature if it is). If you’re bored or very hands on, stir it once or twice during the cooking process.
  8. It’s done when you can’t wait or till the meat is tender and a lot of the fat has rendered out. Serve with lots of rice.

For two or three people as a main dish.