Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Downtown Siem Reap

Peering out of the window as you descend in to Siem Reap airport, a most peculiar sight greets you. Instead of buildings or patches of green, you will see miles and miles of tea coloured water littered with bits of green here and there. This is the Tonle Sap and its unusual vegetation known as indundated forest.

Covering 2,500 square km during the dry season, but expanding up to 12,000 square km at the peak of floods, the Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.
Padi field.
Indeed, life here revolves around this all important lake.  Five provinces with over three million people live around the lake and 90% of them earn a living from fishing and farming off the water-logged plains. I have written about life at Tonle Sap here.

Each year, more than one million travelers visit Siem Reap to explore over a thousand years of Khmer heritage built near Tonle Sap Lake. The primary attraction is the Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temple Region, which blankets more than 300km of northwestern Cambodia. I visited some temples during my first trip to Siem Reap in 2011 which you can read here.

If you're not keen on the Lake or the temples, you'll still find plenty to see and do in the city. Maybe city is not the right word to use because it really is just a small cluster of shops built along the main road. The heart of Siem Reap’s tourist district is known as Old Market,  home to an eclectic mix of restaurants bars and shops geared towards tourists.

You will be amazed at the kind of cuisine you can find in the downtown area. In the 2 nights I was there, we had dinner at Mexican (Viva) and French (Abacus) restaurants that served excellent food. And the desserts at Blue Pumpkin are so good , we indulged in ice cream and cakes there every night.

My favourite place to stay is the chic Villa Medamrei boutique hotel. It is conveniently located opposite the old market, away from the crowded roads and merely a short walk to the downtown area.

If you're not bothered by the heat (it's always scorching hot) and dust (it's either muddy or dusty depending on the weather), you can practically walk everywhere within the downtown area. Because I like walking, I always return to the hotel covered in a layer of dust and sweat. This might explain why spas like these are popular here.

It is safe to walk (even the babies do it) but it is twice as fun to take the tuk tuk. The drivers are so enterprising, the moment they sense you're near, they will look up from whatever they're doing to ask "Need tuk tuk?"

They can bring you around the city for a dollar or two, or take you on a long bone-rattling journey through the village tracks to see the sunrise, sunset, river village on stilts or temple ruins. There is always something out there that is worth seeing, according to them that is. And they're happy to wait on their tuk tuk for hours while you're out exploring the ruins or on a boat ride.

The common folk here move themselves and everything else on their two-wheelers.

The biggest draw in Siem Reap are the markets.  The Old Market and the Night Market are located right smack in the heart of the city while the New Market is just a short tuk tuk ride away.

The New Market was teeming with people when we arrived on Saturday morning. Unlike the one in the city, this is the market where the locals go to for groceries, fresh produce and provisions.

Not many tourists venture out of the city to visit the new market because the sprawling Old Market or Psah Chas downtown sells just about everything!

At the fresh food section, you will find the local folks haggling over fish, meat and vegetable or bent over a bowl of steaming hot noodles.

The other half of the market is dedicated to selling souvenirs like scarfs, handicrafts and jewelry to the tourists. Everything here is sold in US dollars.

I like roaming around the smaller alleys along Pub Street in search of funky shops and boutiques.  One of my favourites is the Australian owned Wild Poppy.

You can find a list of shops here. Some are run by NGOs to help the underprivileged.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Visiting the orphanage

Siem Reap is one of those places that can get you hooked. I've just returned from there. My third trip, in case you're wondering, which is nothing compared to my friends who just made their 7th trip.

When they got home, the first thing they did was to secure tickets for the next one in 2014.  Booking tickets a year in advance saves them quite a bit of money. Every bit that they save will mean they can contribute more to help the poor.

They've help improved the lives of improvished farmers by building wells and patching their homes, as well as buying rice and provisions. This time, we pooled together some money to buy new bunk beds and mattresses for the orphans at Savong Orphan Centre.

He's got a new bed to sleep on!
Some of the children here were abandoned or came from families that were too poor to bring them up. Some were rescued from abusive homes. If not for the centre, they all faced a bleak future.

But all you see at the centre are happy faces. Togged in old clothes brought by donors from all over the world, it amuses me to see boys dressed in marathon finisher tees or Brazil football club jerseys and girls wearing frocks and cardigans in the sweltering heat.
They are the most well behaved kids I've seen. During my trips there, I've never seen them bicker or fight. It is amazing to see 50 kids of all ages co-existing happily while eating, playing or studying. Even the handful of dogs living there wander happily in and out of the classrooms without getting in anyone's way.

The students from Xin Min Secondary School (Singapore) were also there to volunteer their time and services. This is their 7th year and they did such a great job in teaching and entertaining the kids with their games and songs, we heard nothing but laughter all afternoon.
Well meaning friends have cautioned me about giving away my time and money to orphanages in Cambodia. As with all things, it is our responsibility to assess and do our due diligence. So far, we're happy with the way this centre is managed. It is officially registered with the government of Cambodia and supported by an international team that contributes time, money and expertise.

Here is a good article written by Phil Cadwell, CEO of Savong Foundation. In Defense of the Cambodian Orphanage.

Today Savong Orphan Center (SOC) is home to over fifty disadvantaged children providing food, shelter, education and medicine in an adult-supervised setting. Children are taught discipline in their daily routines, each having to attend classes, clean up after themselves, and be respectful of adults and visitors.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Seafood stew for a rainy day

Anyone with two young kids will know that if you want peace and harmony in the home, you should always have buy two of the same things. That way, there is no need for them to squabble over colour, style and so forth. It just makes the parent's job easier.

This rule applies to food too. Thank goodness my kids are not picky eaters from young. Anything that I cook with seafood and tomato will go down well with them.  I shouldn't be calling them kids now that they are not so young but you know, they will always be my kids.

This seafood stew I made for them was well received on a rainy Sunday morning. It is really easy to put together.

Drizzle some olive oil onto a pan and add some chopped up onion and garlic.
Fry until onion is transparent.
Add fresh mushrooms (I used button mushrooms, quartered) and fry for a couple of minutes.
Then add fresh seafood (I used shrimp, crayfish and squid) and fry until lightly cooked.
Stir in chopped up tomato and fry for a minute before adding tomato sauce (I used pasta sauce). Season with some salt and black pepper.
Once the sauce bubbles, turn off the fire and serve immediately.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Citrus chicken

Cooking on a weekday can be quite stressful especially after a long day at work. Some days I arrive home and head straight to the kitchen. I dump my handbag on the floor and start preparing dinner immediately.

Rice takes around 30 minutes to cook, so I always start with that. Then I prepare the protein, usually fish or chicken. I always have fresh shrimp or squid in the freezer which are perfect when I'm in a hurry. These thaw quickly and are delicious anyway you cook.

We always have lots of vegetables to go with our meals. They're such a cinch to prepare and are the least of my worries.

I usually marinate fresh chicken meat during the weekend and chuck them into the freezer so I can cook them slowly over the week. I had wanted to make provencal roasted chicken one night but realised I didn't have enough time to roast an entire chicken. It was already marinated with oregano and rosemary butter, and had completely thawed, so I had to cook it quickly.

I googled and found the perfect recipe - Citrus chicken. I cut the chicken up into smaller parts which cooked beautifully in under an hour and the result was delicious.

Here is my version of Citrus Chicken.

1 whole chicken cut into smaller parts. Marinate with salt and black pepper.
2 oranges
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoon sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion
Handful of chopped up herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme or sage.
Salt and pepper

In a bowl, mix together the juice of one orange, one lemon, minced garlic, sugar and olive oil.
Arrange the chicken parts on a tray so that the skin side is facing the top. Pour the citrusy mixture over the chicken.
Cut the orange and onion into thin slices and tuck the around the chicken pieces.
Scatter the herbs over the chicken and sprinkle some salt and black pepper.
Place the tray into a preheated oven (around 200 degree celcius) and bake for about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


My friends from junior college got together one morning for a walk which took us from Hortpark to Mount Faber. We ended up having lunch at Jamie's Italian. The restaurant is huge and extremely packed. Despite going there without any prior booking, we were given the private room. 
After the excitement of having the room all to ourselves had died down, we got down to ordering. Everything in the menu sounded good but the prices were steep. We don't mind paying for good food but the lunch fell short of our expectations. Each of us paid $50 for food and lemonade. We didn't even order any desserts and walked out still feeling hungry.
I only order sides - fried nachos and baked mushroom (below).
Two of my friends ordered seafood bucatini.

Another two ordered tagliatelle Bolognese.

Miso potatoes are so good

I'm a big follower of Marc Matsumoto simply because his recipes are so simple yet always good. He's not just a genius chef, he analyses and improvises cooking methods so that lazy bones like us can simply follow without having to crack our heads.

When I saw his spicy miso-glazed potatoes recipe, I didn't get very excited. Afterall, how good can boiled potatoes get right?

Yet when I saw these pretty new potatoes in pink and purple hues at the grocers during the weekend, I couldn't resist bringing some home. I was planning to roast them in the oven when I suddenly recalled Marc's recipe. Thankfully I had all the ingredients at home (told you his recipes are very simple) and managed to present the dish on the dining table in 30 minutes.

The potatoes were soft and silky smooth, with a lovely buttery smell and taste. I only use SCS butter because it imparts such a nice flavour. The miso paste lends a special touch to the spud. I think I have found the perfect food for picnics and potluck.

Oh, YK gave a rating of 9.5/10. The highest I had ever scored so far. It is that good.

Friday, 1 November 2013

New Ubin Seafood

It all began when Petunia asked me about my dining experience at Crab in da Bag. She must be craving for crabs. Then she sent me some photos of drool worthy food at New Ubin Seafood which got me very excited. Like two very crab-deprived women, we agreed to meet at the restaurant for lunch the very next day. 

When best friend called to ask me out for lunch, I dragged her along too. She thought it was unusual to be having chilli crab for lunch. Well, to be honest, it was my first time too. The crab was so good,  the restaurant wasn't crowded and the service was excellent, it turned out to be a great idea afterall.

Interested to see what we ate?

To satisfy our craving, we ordered a crab cooked in spicy chilli sauce. I've always been a fan of Jumbo Seafood's crab but today I declare the crab here to be even better. The flesh is firm and sweet, it's probably the freshest I had ever tasted so far.

Another dish that is highly recommended is the black angus ribeye steak. I'm usually not a fan of beef but the USDA ribeye here is in a league of its own. It's pan fried, sliced up and served with really delicious fries, caramelised onion, mustard and ketchup.
The high fat content keeps the beef tender and juicy. Some of the beef fat  is used to fry up a plate of sinfully rich and fragrant fried rice. 
While the hae chor (shrimp and meat roll) was good, our attention was focused on the unsual way the stir-fried vegetable dish was presented. Sprinkled on top of the vegetables is a mixture of finely shredded fried kale and tiny silver fish which adds another dimension to the otherwise ordinary dish.