One of my favourite Cambodian things to do is to go and eat banh chao. It’s one of those eating experiences best shared with a friend and on Tuesday I had the opportunity to indulge.
A huge storm on Tuesday afternoon meant that:
- Class was a very noisy affair as I competed against the noise of the torrential downpour and accompanying electrical activity (complete with shrieks from both kids and TA at each thunder roll and lightning flash)
- I got the opportunity to teach the kids the ‘I hear thunder’ song and then sing it every single time a clap of thunder rolled overhead. I was entertained by it – everyone else not so much so!
- All of the dirt roads in Kampot turned to red mushy sludge
The latter point in that list is significant as it meant that when Channy picked me up from school at 4.45 to go eat banh chao, within 5 minutes we were immersed in this mud fuelled hell. In fairness to Channy, she’s an excellent motorbike driver meaning I felt confident enough to video part of the yukky journey (I obviously kept my feet very firmly planted on the foot pegs of the bike) only erring at the point where Channy contemplated turning back to visit a different banh chao seller (listen carefully to the video and you can hear my concern at the potential that this would occur).
On arrival, having chosen our hut and with only minimal mud splashes on our feet and calves we headed to the counter to order. Both ridiculously hungry we ordered not only one banh chao each but also a bowl of noodles each – curry flavour for me and traditional Kampot noodles (fish soup noodles basically) for Channy. Oh and I almost forgot, Channy also bought us 6 lotus flower seed pods to snack on while we waited.
Settled in our open sided hut I had my first try of lotus seeds and whilst they have very little taste I could see how I would very quickly munch my way through a head full of them. The rhythmic process of pooping the seed from the head, then releasing it from its shell before popping the seed in your mouth felt very therapeutic.
Our first course arrived and, with Channy expertly seated in her hammock and me choosing the far safer option of sitting on the floor, we slurped away happily.
And then it was time for the main event. Banh chao is basically a rice flour pancake stuffed with minced pork. You eat it with your hands by ripping off a piece of the pancake and wrapping it in a lettuce leaf that you add various herbs too. Dipped into a pot of fish sauce, chilli and nut dip it’s ready to chow down on and far more delicious than it probably sounds from my description.
We had had a bit of an eyes bigger than our bellies moment when ordering and so had to have a brief rest with Channy swinging in her hammock and me embarrassing her with my rolling about in various bad yoga poses on the floor.
The little huts that you sit in are quite low to the ground and as you sit eating the local wildlife will often come for a wander around. We were visited by the obligatory cats and dogs on this occasion along with a couple of chickens and a gorgeous young calf who came for a chew on a nearby plant.
The venues are very popular with groups of young people and the vague sound of chatter and music videos being played on the mandatory smart phone fills the air whenever you visit.
On an earlier visit to this spot, Channy told me of a nearby location that has huts where the roof comes all the way down – perfect for that clandestine engagement should the opportunity ever arise!
The lotus pond to our right was beautiful in the early evening light with the post storm breeze gently bending the stems of the buds and leaves. Couples and groups of young people wandered across the rickety little plank bridge to reach the other side and embark in selfie activity on the train tracks and all the while Channy and sat and chomped and chatted. A perfect way to spend a late afternoon/early evening, although I have to admit that the ten degree drop in temperature from a gluey, yukky body temperature equivalent of 37.6 degrees down to 27 left me chilly in general and with positively icy feet. This does not bode well for my upcoming UK trip!!
Finally finished with our feast, we washed it down with the Cambodian non-alcoholic drink of choice – fruity, sweet sugar cane juice and Channy (having planted the remaining herbs from my banh chao in the mud next to the pond as it was apparently “perfect growing time”) continued to munch away at the lotus seeds, determined at one point to finish all six heads before we left.
With the light fading fast and the chill really setting in we decided to stash two heads of lotus in the bike seat and head home. On concrete roads this time the ride was less slippy and muddy but the cool breeze and odd huge rain drop plopping down on us added an element of entertainment to the extremely sedate pootle home (27kmh was our top speed).
Back home, I quickly locked the door to keep the cold out and changed into my PJs before curling up under the sheet (no fan!!!) to catch up on my documentary watching (my latest TV obsession).
A lovely Cambodian afternoon indeed.