Monday, August 22, 2011

Cheap Eats in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia is best known as the hopping off point to visit the country's most prized attraction: Angkor Wat (pictured above). Angkor Wat was a requisite stop on our whirlwind trip through Southeast Asia, so we (by "we" I mean Marya) did loads of research for places to eat in Siem Reap.
Thanks to the magic of Happy Cow we found the restaurant Chamkar.
A word of warning: it was a bit difficult to find. It is in a fancy narrow pedestrian walkway off Pub Street called "The Passage", in the Old Market area.
The place is written up as a vegan friendly vegetarian restaurant, though I recall that the things on the menu we as vegans wouldn't eat were few. Click on the below two images to see the appetizer and entree listings.

We started out with the Potted Wild Harvest dip. I was sold on the description of the dish: "Pounded wild eggplant with coconut milk served with Khmer crudites and Cambodian baguette."
Eggplant is surely never something I expected to see found wild, and how does one pound eggplant into a fine paste? Aside from the fact that it was baked there, I'm not sure how the Cambodian baguette differed from any other baguette I've ever had.

Continuing with the eggplant theme, Marya selected the Mad Eggplant Lovers. The description is: Stir-fried grilled eggplant with loofa, coconut milk, and the delicate taste of holy basil.
Images of Bill O'Reilly aside (ewwwwwwwww!), you might be thinking as we were, "Isn't loofa a sea creature?" Valid question, but it turns out it's a huge land-based seed pod. And we ate it.

I had the Biting Amok dish. It had four little cubes of rice wrapped in amok leaf in a spicy coconut sauce.
This dish isn't to be confused with Cambodia's national dish, Amok, which looks like this, served in a cabbage leaf, though it is more traditionally served in a banana leaf bowl.

All throughout Cambodia you'll see the image of Angkor Wat everywhere, from the country's flag to the country's most popular beer:

Below is our bill for Chamkar:
I know this is probably considered expensive by Cambodian standards, but $18.75 for fancy vegan food plus a beer, glass of wine, and two soda waters to me was pretty damned amazing to this American who's lucky to get a few beers for that amount in the States. We were very impressed with Chamkar. They certainly served the most unique dishes we had during our entire three week trip. And everything was so flavorful.

Another fun experience in Siem Reap was this place in the food stall section of the open air market Psar Chas.
I don't know how much of the food was authentic Khmer, but it was good, especially considering the price.
Marya had an Angkor beer while I tried this Bayon.
Yes, I realize this is not intended to be a blog about beer.
Bayon is the name of a temple in the ancient town near Angkor Wat called Angkor Thom. It was my favorite part of the Angkor Wat/Thom site-seeing.
So naturally I needed several of these to commemorate the occasion.

Craving noodles, I started out with this fried noodle dish.
Nothing too exciting, but, at a buck, the price was right.

We'd seen stir-fried morning glory on so many menus we decided we had to finally try it.
This particular kind of morning glory is also known as Chinese water spinach and swamp cabbage. It is illegal to grow in many states in the US because it quickly proliferates in waterways which could potentially threaten the habitat of fish. For this reason the USDA classifies it as a noxious weed.
Anyway, it was okay. Some of the reeds were a tiny bit tough, and such a big plate of the same vegetable gets old after the first 10 or so bites.

Marya got this lovely Khmer curry:

And here's the bill for all of that:
Yeah, eight fitty for some decent vittles and beer.

I'd like to say a word about our accommodations in Siem Reap, too. We stayed at the Siem Reap Garden Inn.

Everyone who worked there was very pleasant and the place is lovely. Without asking, they gave us the best room in the place, which was an affordable $15/night.
They have their own on-site tuk-tuk driver who, for a fee, will drive you to the sites at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and other surrounding structures on half or full-day outings. They'll even take you there before sunrise to see the sun come over temples. This didn't work out for us as it was raining quite hard the morning we wanted to do this.
The Siem Reap Garden Inn is on a dirt road that's an easy 1/4 mile walk right into town. Highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bangkok: Gimme Whatshagot and Downing Cheap Beer

Thanks to the Lonely Planet "Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" guide we found this fun little vegan restaurant, just south of the Democracy Monument (pictured above) called "Arawy". It's a good walk from Khao San Road. To see a map on how to get there, click here.
The address is 152 Thanon Din So.

We walked in and were shown to a table by the owner with only hand gestures. We weren't given menus.
Marya went off to the lavatory while I stood up to snap these pictures of the food.

As I was taking the pictures, the owner started dishing out some of the various dishes, seemingly at random.
I thought at first it'd be better to wait until Marya got back so we could decide what we wanted, but I quickly concluded that it wouldn't matter. It was all vegan and we could share whatever we got, and the owner seemed keen on giving us a little of everything. Sadly, though, we have no idea what we were served.
Here's what my notes said about our dinner that evening:
Dinner: May 15 Dinner: Arawy - pumpkin stuff, pumpkin soup, other soup, brown rice, tofu in banana leaf, fake meat, etc.
The owner asked us how we had heard of her place. We looked around and noticed no less than ten framed posters of the cover of each Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide that included her restaurant. We pulled out our guide and showed it to her. "Oh, I don't have that one", she said, noting that her wall was lacking the most recent edition.
I should add that the place does not serve alcohol. That was fine, as we could get that everywhere else. It was just neat to have an authentic vegan meal in Bangkok somewhat off the beaten path. I have no real clue as to what exactly we ate, but it was delicious all the same. That the owner was so friendly added to our experience that evening.

In complete contrast to Arawy is Four Sons Inn.
Despite the parenthetical name of the place, "A Friendly Place to Stay", they were far from kind. They did, however, have menus with extensive vegan options, plus cheap beer.
This liter sized 50 Baht beer is in the area of $1.70. I kept ordering beer from the hostess as our waitress was a little too aloof.
The place is located near the end of Soi Ram Buttri. Recycling from an older post, click here to see a map that includes Four Sons. It's where the upper left arrow is pointing "Stay Here".
Craving something somewhat spicy, I ordered the Kee Mao, also known as Drunken Noodle.
It wasn't too spicy, but closer to what I was looking for. It had wide rice noodles, spicy peppers, basil, tofu, bok choy, carrots, mini corn ears, and what looked like a sprig of peppercorns.

This little cat seemed to live there and was well known by many of the staff.
I got to give him a few head scritches.