It all started so well. A lovely swim followed by a delicious lunch of chicken and mango salad and a mango smoothie, #itsmangoseason, and then a catch up with Vicky after her week away (and a chance to buy a huge bag of ripe mangos to boot!).
It was during this catch up that I received an unexpected, and welcome, invitation to dinner with Phirum and some of the other VSO staff. We were to meet at a restaurant called Spark, part of a micro brewery and entertainment complex near to the Chinese Embassy.
Leaving Vicky’s bike we headed out to hail a tuktuk and were immediately approached by a heavily bearded guy who looked more like Mr Myagi having let himself go than your average Joe tuktuk driver.
We set off and were soon at our destination, a huge outdoor dining arena with a row of food huts and a bar. Having found our hosts we sat down and were offered the menu to order from. I, in hindsight foolishly, said I was happy to eat whatever they ordered (in fairness the menu had no English in it and it was difficult to determine from the pictures what each dish was) and Vicky agreed, although quickly added that this did not include ants (more on that later).
We sat and chatted while we waited and then the first dish arrived. Chips and an individual dish of ketchup for each of us. We tucked in and soon the contents of the plate were no more.
The next dish to arrived had been described to us as honey when it was ordered and indeed did look very honeycomb like when it arrived. I tentatively took a bite and I think confused best sums up my reaction. Expecting honey I had been prepared for extreme sweetness which just wasn’t there, but then again neither was savoury, or spicy or pretty much any flavour to be honest, just a vague mushy nothingness.
In total innocence I then invited Vicky to try it, keen to get her opinion on the oddity. Vicky even more tentatively extracted one of the white bits, took one bite and exclaimed “maggots” whilst simultaneously pulling a face and bursting into laughter. The whole table erupted as I feigned righteous indignation and disgust at their audacity in tricking me. I then tried without success to grasp why on earth they chose to eat this oddity when it had neither taste nor texture but my attempts were thwarted by the continued peels of laughter and occasional hysterical shriek emanating from my colleagues.
In an attempt to appease me another plate of chips was ordered and meanwhile we tucked into what is basically the dried on bit that forms at the bottom of the rice cooker with fried and green onion strips sprinkled on it. Apparently, this too is delicious. I personally beg to differ. It tastes a bit like chewy, slightly soft popcorn and annoyingly sticks like glue in your teeth!
If you can tear yourself away from the look of horrow on my face in the above honeycomb eating pictures you will undoubtedly see the beautiful blue sky. In true Phnom Penh, rainy season style as day turned to night that lovely sky had turned to a stormy one and we were now being rained on. The canopies were expertly lowered by the staff who no doubt do this nightly at the moment and we sat listening to the rain and sharing stories and laughing together (mostly at my expense) especially after my Facebook posting of my experience prompted another colleague, Pichchip, to join us at which point the story was recounted for his benefit.
The evening wore on and the rain got heavier. The canopies were prodded with poles to releas the accumulating pools in them and slowly the ground beneath us turned into a pool of water. Lightening flashed, thunder rolled, staff rolled up their trousers and carried on regardless and then out of the waterfall cascading in front of our eyes a soggy vision in blue appeared – Kheang and her boyfriend Kirik had finally arrived.
And so the story was repeated once more whilst the new arrivals stripped off their soggy raincoats, sat themselves down and ordered more food.
And now it is time to return to those ants that Vicky so ferociously rejected earlier in the evening. A plate was presented which, in fairness, looked quite tasty. Everyone declared it to be beef before Vicky quickly chipped in “with ants!” whilst pointing to the dish. I couldn’t see them tbh but Vicky assured me that if I took a photo I’d be able to see them by zooming in later and so I did as I was told and snapped away. Phirum then dug around in the dish with her chopsticks trying without success to find some eggs for me to photograph. By this time my stomach was beginning to do a funny turn so I politely asked her to stop (cue laughter) and the dish was placed down and devoured, along with another plate of beef (although by now I was convinced it was actually reconstituted elephant dung or similar and so politely declined to partake).
Not the most delightful meal I’ve eaten since being here for sure (very glad I’d had that amazing and huge chicken and mango salad for lunch!) but certainly one of the most fun, entertaining evenings spent with my lovely VSO colleagues and a great opportunity for a blog post too!
And if you want to check out what it’s like sitting in a restaurant that is slowly flooding here’s a teensy video I took