Gourmet Travels in the Kampot Counrtyside

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Kampot, Cambodia

Our tuk tuk driver picked us up at 9.00am and we set off on the tourist route through the Kampot countryside.

First stop was the salt fields where we watched Cambodian women cleaning the salt pools which involved stepping in time pulling a rake behind them - Simon thought it was line dancing. This creates grooves in the salt pools which enables the salt to collect. The pools are filled with water from the ocean that has been allowed to evaporate for about 30 days so is nice and salty to begin with. It then sits in the ponds for a week whilst it is "cleaned" then it sits and evaporates for a few more days and the salt crystals collect in the bottom of the pools. All very labour intensive but that seems to be the way in Cambodia.

We then drove off along dirt roads full of pot holes (apparently a renowned Kampot export) and jolted our way through the countryside to the Phnom Chhnork caves where we climbed 200 steps up the hillside and enjoyed the view from the top over the rice fields (now laying fallow waiting for the wet season) and looking towards Bokor Mountain.

We then walked into the cave's main chamber where there was a 7th century Hindu temple. It was extremely atmospheric and quite beautiful. A young man who had accompanied us to the cave placed incense and told us that he was praying to his God. Jonno, Georgia and Simon then accompanied our tuk tuk driver/guide through the cave with their headlights, whilst I walked back down the stairs. Georgia thought that the caving was great but way too short.

Next stop was the (not so) Secret lake so called by the Tourism department which had been created 1975 under Pol Pot where a small lake was greatly enlarged and deepened by the local people who had to dig it out by hand. It is now used as a water supply.

From there we headed to the Starling Pepper farm where we saw the infamous Kampot green pepper growing on the trees. We had tried this already in a number of dishes, and thoroughly enjoyed its flavour. The pepper is plucked from the trees and used fresh, dried in the sun to make black pepper, peeled to create white pepper, whilst the red pepper is picked between February and May.

We rattled off again on ever dustier roads heading to Kep for lunch which is on the coast about 45 minutes from Kampot by tuk tuk. We pulled up at a string of restaurants all serving the famous Kep crab. We opted for a plate of the crab with Kampot pepper (of course), fried rice with crab and some steamed vegies. The restaurant overlooked the water and enjoyed pineapple and watermelon shakes whilst we waited for our crab. It was worth waiting for - if a little messy and the kids had their first attempt at eating whole crab. We had three crabs for 7.50USD (less than $10) and they were sooooo good. The sauce was particularly good with the steamed vegies as well.

After lunch we walked through the markets and saw the crabs being kept fresh and alive in bamboo crates floating in the sea water. It was a shame that we had already had lunch as there were lots of delicious seafood being BBQd on skewers. We wandered through the markets and enjoyed the sights and smells.

We then headed off to Kep beach and watched the Asian tourists at play in the water and sitting along the waterfront enjoying BBQd seafood picnics. There were lots of non-Asian tourists around as well, but very few of them were to be seen on the beach.

We walked up to take a photo of the Kep crab and then returned to the tuk tuk for our drive back to Kampot.

After some down time in our lovely room, we wandered out for a pre dinner drink, as we had already booked to have dinner at Rikitikitavi for our last night here. We enjoyed two for one cocktails at Veronica's terrace, Simon and I both having a mojito, whilst Jonno had an amazing mint blast, a refreshing mint and lemon drink. Poor Georgia didn't enjoy her lime juice so much as it was too sweet, and rated it the worst of the three she had tried in Kampot.

Dinner at Rikitikitavi was the best meal of the trip so far (and one of the reasons that we saved it to the last night in Kampot). Jonno and Georgia have become quite the masterchef judges and rated the Saraman curry the number 1 dish so far in the trip. This was a medium spiced Khmer beef curry made with peanuts and fresh herbs and spices, traditionally served only during special occasions. The fish amok was also rated the best yet (and this was our third night of eating it). It is a gently seasoned traditional creamy coconut curry served in a banana leaf - and has tasted different at every restaurant. However, it only only rated third for Kampot as the beef loc lac from the Malaya cafe on our first night in Kampot was rated higher by our masterchef judges. The beef loc lac is simmered in a tomato based sauce. The Rikitikitavi loc lac was good - but not as good as the Malaya. Our final dish tonight was the sait moarn chantii which was chicken stirfried in a mild sauce with cashew nuts and vegies. It was delicious but our masterchef judges did not rate it in the top three from Kampot.

We have a leisurely start tomorrow then off to Phnom Penh.