To avoid being “templed out”, we split our three-day Angkor Wat pass into four days. Two days of temple visits, one day of rest, and the last day of temple visits again. On the day of rest, we decided to take a Cambodian cooking class that included a market visit and preparation, and most importantly, consumption of a three-course meal.
Our teacher was a young Cambodian woman, with a no-nonsense attitude, and the class was composed of us and a vegetarian couple from San Francisco. Cambodians are not vegetarians. Cambodians are not even sure what vegetarians are. We learned this from watching our instructor struggle to remake popular fish amok (fish in coconut sauce) into a vegetarian dish.
Everything started great. She handed them a large piece of tofu and proudly declared that they will be making tofu amok. Things quickly went downhill from there.
“One tablespoon of fish sauce!” she loudly announced, as Julia and I measured out fish sauce into our dish.
“No fish sauce?” The vegetarians sadly shook their heads.
“OK, shrimp paste is next…. No shrimp paste? A chicken bouillon cube! No? Oh, this dish is not going to be good.”
I barely managed not to laugh at her bluntness. Political correctness has not made its way into Cambodia quite yet. After both dishes were prepared, she tried “tofu amok”, smacked her lips, and incredulously asked the vegetarians, “You like this?!”
They both nodded, “Oh, yes, the flavors are very good.”
She tried our fish amok, “Now this is how I like it!”
The vegetarians managed to keep smiling. I wanted to die. Keep in mind that these two poor Californians started their cooking class by watching Julia and me snack on ants during the market visit. OK, since you asked - the vendor was selling a bucket of ants and offered a taste. They were sour and crunchy. I turned to Julia, who was licking the last ants off her finger, and saw two pale wide-eyed faces staring at me. They were in the middle of trying to take a picture of the ant bucket when we started snacking. I don’t think they actually remembered to take a photo after that.
I do have to hand it to them – they took the entire experience in stride and seemingly even enjoyed the lesson. I do believe that somewhere in California, two vegetarians love retelling a story of their Cambodian cooking class with two ant-eating weirdos and an instructor who couldn't quite grasp the concept of vegetarianism. If someone finds their blog, please let me know.