Back in Phnom Penh for the weekend I met up last night with the lovely Kheang from VSO. She’d contacted me earlier in the week and asked where I wanted to eat and I’d suggested soup, something we’d eaten together before and a reminder for me of many fun meals when living in China.
Basically, soup (or hot pot as they call it in China) is a communal affair. A gas cooker is placed on the table and a bowl of steaming broth sits atop. What else goes in is entirely at the behest of those around the table, this led to some hairy moments when dining with friends in China but last night meant a soupy mix of mushrooms, green veg, shrimp, crab and corn. With an accompaniment of sweet chilli dip and a bottle or two of pretty shit tasting but icy cold Cambodian beer it made for what should have been a delicious meal.
Unfortunately though, in the restaurant Kheang had taken me to the soup was only half the story, the other half consisting of barbeque. Again involving a gas camping cooker, this time with a griddle pan atop onto which two lumps of white greasy pork fat were placed along with a dish of bright yellow gloop which Kheang described as butter. One sniff and my worst fears were confirmed, the dish did not contain butter but instead was filled with vile smelling margarine – the type found in those 1kg Kraft tubs any Brit of my generation or older will remember well.
Slowly, the lurid yellow plastic fat melted in the dish, the smell drifting towards my nostrils causing me to feign an I’m hot moment requiring major hand wafting as I tried to fan the stench away.
Eng, our companion for the evening excitedly poured the gloop onto the griddle and slapped meat, fish and seafood on to fry away having firstly blocked the griddle drain hole with a plug formed from an okra finger ensuring the food was swimming in the processed oil slick. Thankfully, the cooking food smell masked that of the marge but that only served to lead me to a foolish decision to try a piece of the lightly charred barbecued beef. The minute I put it into my mouth my gag reflex kicked in as the taste of bad margarine flooded my mouth. A quick gulp of beer washed away the worst of it and I lavishly dipped some mushrooms into chilli sauce before chomping away on them to remove the remainder of the gruesome flavoured oil slick in my mouth.
Needless to say, for the rest of the meal my chopsticks were pointed firmly towards the soup cooker and my eyes studiously averted from the yellow cesspool that Eng was delightedly dipping his animal products into before lobbing them onto the griddle.
Having had my fill of soup I headed to the icecream stand (yep it appears that icecream is the standard all you can eat buffet dessert offering in countries other than England) and grabbed a ridiculously small metal saucer which I piled high with garish pink strawberry ice cream. Back at the table I tucked in using a tiny teaspoon which buckled under the weight and density of the frozen dessert. Undeterred, I shovelled the tasty sweet treat down and thankfully had finished my last mouthful before I turned just in time to see a certain someone dip a digit in the toxic fat pot before transferring said finger to his mouth.
Even now my tummy does a little turn at the thought!