Oh, the Glorious Food!

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

If there was one thing that Pete and I were most excited about on this journey to Southeast Asia – it was the food.

Pete fancies himself a chef-in-training (rightly so, he is a very excellent cook), and his default meals are always Asian inspired: stir fries, curries and the like. Thus one of the first things we did upon arrival in Cambodia was uncover some of the prominent local dishes, and get to tastin’.

And when we were done tastin’, we wanted to get to cookin’,ย and so we quickly signed up for a Khmer cooking class.

Khmer Cooking Class

On the menu, the local specialty of amok and the universal favourite of spring rolls!

Fish Amok

It is best described as a smooth curry dish, with a dollop of coconut cream added on top. (While the specialty is to use a white fish, for those of us that find even the smell of it stomach-churning, any other protein can be used.)

For all the intensive ingredients in this dish, it actually was not all that difficult to make (or so says us class participants who had most of the ingredients just handed to them).

Fish Amok Recipe

5 dried red chilies: soaked, drained and chopped into a paste. (Or, use how many you want, depending on level of spiciness desired).
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp galangal (Thai ginger)
1 tsp lemongrass (thinly sliced)
zest of 1/4 lime
1 tsp salt
optional: 4 tbsp of peanuts
3 tbsp fish sauce
500g of protein
3/4 cup coconut cream
2 cups coconut milk
1 egg, beaten

Combine the first seven ingredients in a food processor and blend to a thick paste. Alternatively (more traditionally and definitely more badass), use a mortar and pestle and work those biceps.

Stir the above (called the kroeung) into 1 cup of coconut milk. When it has dissolved, add the egg, fish sauce, and protein. Then add the remaining coconut milk and mix well.

Make banana leaf cups (if so inclined, or ceramic bowls can be used) and add the mixture. Steam for 15-20 minutes, then put the coconut leaves on top. Steam further until the mixture is solid, but still moist.

Grape Leaves for Amok

Making Amok Spices

Fish Amok

Spring Rolls

I’m not gonna lie, there have been an awful lot of spring rolls consumed by us in Cambodia. And we found their “stuffing” to be unusually simple compared to others we’ve eaten our lives. While other items (and proteins) can be added, the basic filling has only shredded taro root and carrots.

Spring roll recipe

2 cups taro root (shredded)
2 cups carrot (shredded)
25 spring roll shells (rice paper)
1 tbsp peanuts
1 beat up egg
3 cups cooking oil
salt, sugar, pepper (to taste)

The shredded taro root needs all juice removed, or else it can cause burning in your mouth! (Did not know that.) After shredding, place in a large mixing bowl and add salt to bring out the liquid. Squeeze it out and rinse in clean water, this may need to be done repeatedly until the water is clear (we did it three times). Then mix with carrots, and season with sugar and pepper to taste. Pre-form the mixture into separate rolls.

Lay a spring roll sheet flat on a cutting board and place the filling roll at one end. Roll it tight and seal the end with the beat up egg. Heat the oil on high temperature, then turn it to medium, and place the spring rolls inside. Turn them frequently until golden brown. Remove, let cool, and devour.

Sweet & sour dipping sauce recipe (SUPER delicious)

4 cloves of garlic
1 fresh red pepper
1 fresh hot chili
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp peanuts (crushed)
1/2 cup of water

Crush the garlic. Add sugar, salt, hot chilis and red pepper. Stir well and add water, fish sauce, lemon juice. Mix well. Serve with peanuts sprinkled on top.

Spring Rolls Mixture

Spring Rolls Filling

Spring Rolls Frying

No one said these were healthy.

Homemade Spring Rolls

And while I was a full participant in the class, I was much happier during the eating part, and we both declared the results to be the best food we had eaten since our arrival. (There is no one happier than me that Pete has these new recipes and skills in his arsenal.)

23 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • November 14 2013

    YUM! OK, spring rolls are delicious and amazing and whatnot, but oh amok amok amok! The memories are enough to make me dizzy. We ate so much fish amok in Cambodia I feared for the country’s fishing quota… Stellar photos, comme d’habitude. Thank you and good luck!
    Lunaguava recently posted..Blue Lagoons and White Glaciers in Iceland

    • Pete
      November 19 2013

      Yes Amok was certainly one of my favorite dishes by far. Cambodia is not typically known for too much spice in their food, but the taste of this dish was INCREDIBLE!

  • November 15 2013

    YUM! so cool to see how spring rolls are made!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..9 Tips for Saving Money toward Travel

    • Pete
      November 19 2013

      I’ve been waiting to learn for a LONG time, now I know the amount of effort goes into these rolls of deliciousness!

  • November 15 2013

    I knew before I even clicked on this that I really shouldn’t do it before lunch. Dammit. Starving and stuck in a country with zero Asian food ๐Ÿ™
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..“So, like… what do you EAT in Honduras?” – Part 2

    • Pete
      November 19 2013

      Yeah, I hate being in a place that doesn’t have Asian food. Roatร n was especially difficult for that reason.

  • Pratibha
    November 15 2013

    It’s dinnertime in India and I had no business reading this post on an empty stomach ๐Ÿ™‚ Well done, you guys.

    • Pete
      November 19 2013

      haha, I’m hungry now too looking back on this post!

  • November 19 2013

    I took the same cooking class and loved it. Actually I took it twice, but with different dishes to learn each time. Cambodian food is really underrated and there is much more to it than tarantulas. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Glad you guys enjoyed it!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..The day I ate a tarantula

    • Pete
      November 19 2013

      haha, yes definitely a lot more than just tarantulas. I enjoyed every dish I had in Phnom Penh and I can’t wait to try to recreate these.

  • November 19 2013

    I love fish amok! If I go back to Cambodia that’s the first thing I’ll order!

    • Pete
      November 19 2013

      Me too, my favorite dish from there by far.

  • November 19 2013

    Awesome photos Dalene! Will add a link to your post on my website in the cooking class reviews section if ok? ๐Ÿ™‚
    Jacqui recently posted..Is it the Guacamole making The Goats on the Road so Damn Happy?

  • November 19 2013

    I wish I had taken a class while I was there, looks like so much fun.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Taste of Bologna

  • November 19 2013

    Mmm…. it looks amazing. Glorious fried-food!

  • November 20 2013

    We definitely need to take more cooking classes. We also need to go to Cambodia!
    Lance recently posted..An Unexpected Dublin Walking Tour

  • November 21 2013

    As I don’t eat fish I felt fairly left out of Cambodian cuisine, though thanks to Blue Pumpkin ice cream I certainly didn’t starve ๐Ÿ™‚ If you haven’t tried it…. you must!

  • November 22 2013

    Mmmmm fish amok … that was my favorite dish in Cambodia! Thanks for the recipe – I can’t wait to try to make it at home!
    Heather recently posted..How to Quickly Comprehend Chinese While in China

  • November 22 2013

    Yummy! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: Kiiro 5 – Kiiroi Osora de Boom Boom Boom

  • November 24 2013

    Oh YUM. I have yet to take a cooking class in Thailand. Perhaps we should do that together one afternoon? Those spring rolls look amazing!!

  • November 25 2013

    I remember when I visited Cambodia I was so amazed and impressed with the food. I guess I’d been to a Cambodian restaurant or two back in America, but never realized the full extent to their menu. SO YUMMY! Saving your recipes for later ๐Ÿ™‚
    Adam recently posted..My 30th Year & All The Things I Want To Do

  • Charlene
    November 28 2013

    Mmmh, absolutely salivating looking at those pics! Very excited as I’ll be in Cambodia next month seeing in Christmas and can’t wait to see what I’ll be eating there instead of a big turkey or goose!

  • Ali
    December 2 2013

    I did something like this when I was in Phnom Penh a couple years ago, although by some strange luck, I was the only one in the class that day. (I don’t remember the name of the school but they had great reviews.) We made fish amok and spring rolls, plus a few other things, and while it was definitely interesting, a) I’m not a fan of fish, and b) we still ended up making enough for a group of people, not just me. Which meant the instructor kept trying to get me to eat more and more!

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