LUNCH BREAK BITES: Sustenance + Shaved Ice

Today I asked my Khmer co-worker Kunthy to take me to her favorite lunch spot around our office. We both saddled onto my moto and drove off into the heat to get some scrumptious food.

This was another place where you peruse the prepared food, pick what you want and they quickly serve it to your table. We eyed the large plates of food and settled on some chicken, pork and beef + morning glory soup. The food doesn’t always look pretty, but it’s full of flavor!

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The pork was my favorite. Doesn’t look that great, but was tender and tasty.

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I had no clue what the veggie was in our soup, so asked my co-worker. Morning glory. I’d never heard of or had it before. Something new… yes! She Googled it to show me what it looks like fresh so I could eye it at the market. You can eat the shoots and the leaves. She told me it’s good as a stir fry, so I’m going to buy some at the market next week and give it a whirl!

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We hopped back on the bike and went on our second mission: Cambodian shaved ice. I’m game! We pulled up to this little cart with bowls of things I didn’t recognize. Most were savory. Definitely a new experience for me eating savory things as dessert! Kind of like the topping choices at Blockheads off Sawtelle in Los Angeles.

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I ordered what Kunthy did since I had no clue what I’d like. It was red beans, blue beans, sweetened yams and shaved ice topped with a fresh coconut and palm sugar mixture. Surprisingly, I liked it! I liked the coconut mixture the best, and saw others got that, coconut milk and condensed milk on their shaved ice, so I may try that sweeter version next time 😉

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Awesome new foodie experience! Looking forward to exploring another co-worker’s favorite spot!

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Epiphany Had

I don’t typically open up on the interwebs, but I’m going to be bold and share. I’ve been having an internal battle since arriving in Cambodia. One reason I chose to move here was to help Cambodia and its people evolve. In my two trips prior to moving here, I’d been captivated by their culture… they’d been through the Khmer Rouge reign (1975-9) when 2 million Cambodians were killed – most of the educated and almost 1/4 the country’s population. The country is still recuperating/rebuilding from this travesty, yet are so warm, giving, genuine and friendly. I felt a calling to give back and help their future.

Fortunately in January 2017, I was able to give back by volunteer teaching English to a wonderful school in Siem Reap. Now, living here, I would love to continue to volunteer teach in a rural village, but I need a source of income.

I knew salaries were waaaaaay less than in the US, and I’d accepted that. But I found some NGO jobs of interest paid minuscule amounts (much lower than I anticipated), only hired Khmers or I applied and didn’t hear back. I thought about teaching English, but learned that at the International schools here, the kids already spoke English, so I lost interest. And the rural village schools were far away and did not offer much salary.

Starting to feel nervous about employment options, I decided to see if there were jobs in my profession, digital marketing. There were! I applied to a marketing agency and after two interviews, was offered a position. As I contemplated the offer, I continued to struggle… was I just taking it because it was what I knew and I was eager to make money? Would I not be staying true to why I moved here?

Then it hit me! The way I can contribute to Cambodia, its people and its future, is by working in the digital marketing field, introducing new skills, opening up new revenue streams for their businesses and helping evolve a discipline that’s in its infancy and eager for people with my experience to help it grow.

In discussions with additional marketing agencies and other business professionals, I learned that my digital marketing skills are highly sought after here. With approximately 50% of the 15MM population under 25, and with the rise in social media usage in this mobile-first economy, there is a new opportunity to connect with Cambodians. And businesses need help navigating this!

I wasn’t taking the easy way out. I was just helping in a different way than I originally imagined. It seems so obvious to me now, but for the past few weeks, I’ve been blind to this thought.

I am excited now. Excited because I know I can make an impact and excited to revisit my passion for digital marketing, which I lost over the last year. I can share this passion with an eager and young audience, develop digital marketing professionals and help the foundation for this new marketing practice in Cambodia.

No pressure, right?! 😉

Lunch Break Bites: Riverside Rendezvous

My office is in the Riverside neighborhood, which is teeming with local restaurants and street stalls. Yes!! Today I walked down the street and stopped at a corner spot packed with Khmers.

The set-up of today’s restaurant is very popular among the Khmer restos. There is a large table of pots filled with Khmer goodness that was cooked by the owners in the morning. They only serve what’s in the pots, and when it’s done, business is done.

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I peered into each pot and selected a fish and vegetable soup and a stir-fried veggie dish with what I think was pork. Or some part of a cow. Or maybe something else. HA HA! All dishes are served with a plate of rice.

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It was tasty, fresh and filled me up!

Cost: $1.65.

Lunch Break Bites: Central Market Noodles

One thing I admire about Cambodians during the work day, is that they actually take lunch breaks! In the U.S., I felt chained to my desk, had a meeting or had too much work to step out. New city. New approach. I’m going to attempt to get out for lunch while working in Phnom Penh! At least a few days a week 😉

My goal: Walk/drive around Riverside (where my office is) and adjacent areas and pick spots with the most Cambodians and least amount of foreigners. I will chronicle my eating adventures here!

June 23

I had to go to Central Market to get a poncho, as I was stranded at the office last night as it was pouring rain and I had nothing to keep me dry. #CamboProblems

Central Market is a monstrous building with stall after stall of clothing, small electronics and home goods. They also have food stalls! Despite it being hot and humid here, I was craving noodles, so walked around until I saw some I liked, and plopped down at the counter.

I was asked to pick my noodles (fat white rice noodles) and meat (pork). A delicious bowl packed with these and bean sprouts, green onions, water spinach and onions was delivered pipping hot. Deep flavors that immediately comforted me. Tasted a bit like pho and cost $1.50!

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Farmers Market: Cambo Style

I want to stay true to one of the reasons I moved abroad: to experience life like a local, not finding the Western way of doing things.

Enter our next adventure: buying groceries.

The supermarkets in Phnom Penh are much smaller than those in the US. There are more products available that I anticipated, but most condiments and dairy are imported (from the US!) and are way more expensive than in the US. Some produce and dry goods are imported too, and are sometimes in the same boat. Some essentials we need (i.e. olive oil, simple spices), but I’m challenging myself  to change what and how I eat to complement what’s grown in Cambodia to fully experience living here. And save costs. $13 strawberries? I’ll pass.

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Today we headed to Russian Market, a smorgasbord of produce, meats, fresh fish, pickled veggies, clothes, home goods and everything else. Felt like a mini Orussey Market, but much easier to navigate and closer to home. It’s like the Brentwood Farmers’ Market every day and night here. Although Russian Market, and other smaller markets around town, are not called “farmers’ markets,” just “markets,” and they’re cheaper and little more smelly 😉

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We’ve learned that a lot of restaurants buy food each morning from these markets and sometimes even drive over and purchase ingredients after an order has been placed, so it’s super fresh, and they don’t have waste.

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We’ve also learned that supermarkets buy produce here and mark it up to sell in their stores. Since learning this, we no longer buy produce at the supermarket.

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It’s a mixture of sights, sounds and smells walking through the wet aisles. So many new types of lettuce, herbs and vegetables that I’d never seen. Promised myself I would purchase something I didn’t recognize each time and experiment.

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I definitely need to learn to eye my cuts of chicken, pork, beef, etc. since nothing is labeled like the markets I’m used to. Some cuts are recognizable, but some are not.

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Today’s haul:

  • 1 dozen eggs ($1.37)
  • 3 roma tomatoes, 3 large carrots, 2 garlic, 4 shallot, 10 baby cucumbers ($2.25)
  • 1 large leek, baby chives, 1 large mushroom, bundle of enoki mushrooms ($1.75)
  • 1 bunch bananas (14), 1 dragonfruit, 4 rambutan ($2.38)

I’d like to find stands that sells a lot of what I buy, and always buy there so they get to know me and give me deals. Also, I’m keeping track of prices so I can tell if next time I’m getting a better/worse deal and go/don’t go back to that stand. Generally people seem honest. They weigh everything. Produce tastes delicious and fresh. Everything has tasted delicious so far!

ET Phone Home

One thing I do not miss about the US is the exorbitant cell phone plan prices! Or at least mine was.

Enter cell phone usage in Cambodia. With an unlocked US phone, I purchased a Cambodian SIM card ($2). From there, I added a monthly data plan. 2GB, which is all I need (there is Wi-Fi everywhere!), is $3/month. Yes, you read that correctly. $3 PER MONTH!!

CambodiaCellPhoneMinuteScratchersMinutes/text are handled differently. You put money on your phone and when it runs out, it runs out, even if it’s after month’s end. And when you need to refill it, you pick up a scratcher (like a lotto ticket) at a multitude of stores and from your phone dial *197*scratchernumber# and dial, and it automatically adds that money on your phone!

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The one thing different here is that it costs more to call people on other networks vs. on your own. Some Cambodians have multiple phones for the different carriers as it’s more cost effective (and a sign of status). I don’t plan to talk on the phone much, but want minutes/texts for quick local calls and emergencies. Will be using Wi-Fi/data for all my communications to the US;)

Within Network: $0.05/min, $0.07/min 6:00 – 11:59 p.m., $0.025/SMS

Out of Network: $0.08/min 12:01 – 11:59 a.m., $0.09/min 12:00 – 11:59 p.m., $0.04/SMS

There are promotions, so I need to figure out what they are and how to take advantage. Just saw one that advertised $1 = $30 on something. Show me the minutes!

Sorry, Kermit

We now live in the Boeung Keng Kang 3 (BKK3) commune (i.e. neighborhood) of Phnom Penh. Tonight, since it wasn’t raining (hello, monsoon season!), we wandered around our new hood to check out the local restaurants (i.e. where Cambodians eat, not expats/tourists). We walked 2 blocks and spotted a place that was packed and knew it was our place de jour. No clue what the name was as their sign was not in English (on the corner of Streets 113 and 350).

We walked in, and there were no free tables. Two Cambodian men, who were just sitting down, politely invited us to share their table, so we took them up on their offer!

We learned that you needed to go to the grill on the street and order your food. I boldly went and discovered I had three choices: duck, chicken feet and frog. Ummmm… duck?!

Went back to the table and the men instructed us to squeeze fresh lime into the small bowls of local salt and pepper to make a paste. We dunked each piece of duck into it before eating. The small duck was cut into tiny pieces and we pulled at the tough skin to uncover the tiny bits of meat underneath. Truth be told, there was a lot of tugging on the skin and not much meat. We looked around, and everyone was in the same boat, so we went with it.

The two Cambodian men spoke a little English, so we conversed a bit throughout the meal. I shared I had never eaten frog and was scared, so of course they ordered some and encouraged me to try it. I was scared at first, but his thigh looked so big and juicy, I needed to try. And I did! And it tasted like chicken! And I liked it! A lot!! There was an awesome spice rub on it and I ate his leg (Andreas had the other) and some of his body. Yum! Definitely over my fear of frogs and will order it again!

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Wish I had more pictures to capture this evening, but decided to go low-tech with no phone or purse. Thanks, Andreas, for capturing my trepidation!

One thing that made me curious… I noticed there were ~40 people in the restaurant. All men. No women. Except me. Why? All single men after work? Wives at home with the kids? Maybe it’s not odd, but I observed it and curious to learn more (if you know, please let me know!).

Proud of us for getting out of our comfort zone and eating at a new place where we were the only foreigners, the owners spoke little English, I tried frog for the first time and we sat with new friends. Yay us!

What shall I eat next?!?!

Oh Wow Orussey

When you move into a new townhouse, you quickly need the essentials. If I moved into a new place in LA, I would just bring everything from my last place in a moving truck. With limited space (and weight!) in the two suitcases and one carryon I brought on this adventure, I put all my house essentials in storage before I left LA, so we’re starting from scratch. In California, no brainer – I’d head to Target, BB+B or a department store. In Cambodia? Ummmm… where do I go?! They do have a department store, but we didn’t want to invest a ton for household items at the moment, and I moved abroad to experience a new culture, so I didn’t want to default to the more Western option (at first).

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Enter: Orussey Market. We were introduced to this by another expat who we met on an expat Facebook group (another post on that soon!). This is the biggest (indoor) market and commercial center for Cambodians in Phnom Penh. You can find any and everything here. What an experience! Narrow aisles are packed to the brim with little shops over flowing with pots and pans, plates, dried fish, sausages, house essentials, clothes, trinkets and everything one could ever need. And today we only covered one of three floors!

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We learned it’s all about haggling here. Stay calm; don’t be in a rush; pick multiple things from the same shop and ask for the price on all of them instead of individual items; and if you don’t get the price you want, move on as there is someone else around the corner selling the same things for less. Some shop keepers see a white face and instantly mark things up, so foreign buyers beware. It’s all part of the game. This was very foreign to me (no pun intended) for household basics, so Andreas took the lead (he was a pro!) and I took notes. It was fun to watch and I’m excited to go alone next time and try it myself.

I’m working on learning some basics in Khmer (Cambodia’s language), which will hopefully help me get better prices/haggle. Think I’ll get farther asking, “How much?” in Khmer vs. English.

Would I go here every week? Probably not. It was overwhelming and you have to be in the mood for this type of environment. But for essentials when living abroad, when I’m not going to bring any of these things back to the US, this place will do. We scored some nice, reasonably priced things that get the job done. And look nice!

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We have motorbikes here (weeee!!!!), not cars. So how do we schlep all this home?! No trunk to throw it all in. Yet another adventure! Hung a few bags on a hook right where my feet go, hopped on, slid my feet under the bags and away we went. This was a tiny load compared to what I’ve seen some Cambodians carry on their bikes. Baby steps 😉

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Onto the next adventure!

 

I Fought The Law

Not even 24 hours in Phnom Penh, and I experienced my first run in with the police! I accidentally went down a one way (small) street. Didn’t see the sign. And there was a Cambodian about 10 yards in front of me going the same way, so I thought it was ok. Low and behold there was a gaggle of police hanging out at the corner and one immediately walked into the street, stopped me and pulled me over. He told me of my infraction and I was surprised. There was someone else driving the same way and didn’t get pulled over! And honestly, I didn’t see the sign. They mumbled some things, which I couldn’t decipher, but gathered I needed to pay the $7 or I would have to go to the police station.

I knew this was bound to happen in Cambodia because I’m a foreigner. Thankfully I read a few blogs on what to do in this situation, so I was prepared (even though I was shaking inside!!). I learned that you should put your money into two compartments, and have only a few dollars in one, so if pulled over, and asked to pay, you can show them that you only have a few dollars. In my wallet I have these two compartments: small bills just in case I get pulled over and the rest. I’ve been keeping 10,000 riel (~$2.50) in my “just in case” compartment, but just bought petrol, so only had 7,500 (~$1.90). I showed him all pockets in my purse and said it was all I had as I just went out to get petrol. Little white lie, I know. But it’s the game!

He grumbled a few times but finally took the money and sent me home. Pfew. I made it through!!

While I’ve learned there is some corruption with the police in Cambodia, they do not make a lot of money and are not publicly funded by taxes, so this situation is typical and I chalked it up to helping their families eat.

And now I’m more prepared for the next time this happens 🙂