May 28, 2016

Cambodia Travelogue: A Taste of Cambodian-French Fusion Cuisine by Cuisine Wat Damnak (30 Jan 2015)

Our "tomb raiding" experience in Ta Prohm was no doubt exhausting. Despite so, it did not temper our enthusiasm to experiment with unique local fusion cuisine, particularly Cuisine Wat Damnak.

Cuisine Wat Damnak is a contemporary Cambodian-French fusion restaurant, quietly tucked in a quaint area of Wat Damnak. I love its homely setting and warm ambiance. With both al-fresco and transparent indoor conditioned dining, it caters well to both Western and Asian diners.

Simplicity was prevalent in Cuisine Wat Damnak - 2 tasting menus every week, 5-course or 6-course at USD24 and USD28 respectively. It sure made our decisions easier - 6-course for both tasting menus please!

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Amuse-Bouche
Our fine dining evening was ushered by this seemingly familiar amuse-bouche. Though it was not experimental like most, its simplicity was unparalleled; it was the living testimony of harmonious coexistent of crisp and tenderness.

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Crispy Beef Tongue Salad with Rose Apple, Cucumber, Sweet Peanut and Tamarind Dressing
Before long, the first appertiser followed. This was the revolution of classic satay, sans the stick, cons exquisite organ belonging to a cow. I must admit that beef tongue was not really my kind of meat but the overall combination was not overwhelming. Thanks to the clever play of natural sweetness from rose apple, the nutty aroma of peanut, and the citrusy twist from tamarind, this crispy beef tongue was the best organ I have ever had in my life.

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Fresh Coconut Tree Heart Salad with Lemon Basil, Tonle Sap Puffer Fish and Spicy Pounded Coconut
In case you didn't notice, Cuisine Wat Damnak sources mainly from nearby farms and foraged wild from Siem Reap province. Hence, we had Tonle Sap puffer fish and coconut tree heart gracing our dining plates. While this might not be as challenging as the crispy beef tongue salad, this coconut tree heart salad was intriguing at its own way: who would have thought of eating the coconut tree heart with fried fish? More so with its combination of coconut, lemon basil and chilies.

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Black Sticky Rice Porridge with Duck, Mushrooms, Sesame and Chrysanthemum Shoots
By then we were so pleased with our appetisers that we couldn't wait to explore the next adventure our main would deliver: black sticky rice porridge wth duck, mushrooms, sesame and chrystanthemum shoots. I loved how blended was the flavour of duck in black sticky rice porridge. I loved how the texture of thinly shredded duck meat paired with dense sticky rice and fresh chrysanthemum shoots. It had definitely escalated my gastronomy experience to the next level.

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Grilled Pahar with Minced Pork and Holy Basil in Turmeric Leaf, Herbs and Local Crudites
Another main presented us with another fish species (I think) we had yet to discover until now, i.e Pahar. Unusual as it seemed, Cuisine Wat Damnak combined both fish and pork into a single dish that was so blended that I could hardly differentiate both. You might think it was predictable but that strong fragrant holy basil and turmeric leaf did lend a hand in proving you wrong.

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Slow Cooked Pork Ribs Curry with Pumpkin, Peanuts and Deep Fried Shallots
We just had to have more and guess what, we had 2 more mains to go! This pork ribs curry was probably the least twisted dish in this post. The addition of pumpkin not only thicken the curry, it sweetened it. Oh, and that additional crunch from those crushed peanuts to go with the sweet tender pork ribs. Yes, I would definitely want some rice now!

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Mekong Langoustine Spicy Sour Soup with Starfruit, Water Lily Stem and Rice Paddy Herb
Contrastingly, this second main was accompanied by usual flair of mystery. Bombarded with more ingredients unheard of, it anchored itself well with the usage of langoustine so fresh that it felt like it just died. The usage of starfruit added slight tartness to the dish, though easily ignored in the presence of spicy sour soup.

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Stir Fried Boneless Frog Legs with Angkor Stout Reduction, Lotus Roots, Stems and Seeds
By now, we were rather full with satisfaction but we were not done. Though I am not a big fan of frogs, I was sold by the Angkor Stout reduction. Fermentation of grains and reduction method of cooking are a strong combination that promised only to bring out the best in our four legged jumpy friend. As expected, its chewy texture gave in to the warm embrace of Angkor Stout reduction. Paired with crunchy lotus roots, stems and seeds, it was a dish that makes any non frog eaters to go head over toe for it!

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Pan Roasted Sanday Fish with Cambodian Giant Eggplant, Caramelised Palm Sugar, Fresh Peppercorn and Green Mango
Gracing our dinner plate was yet another fish unknown to us, along with clever combination of palm sugar and green mango. The usage of Cambodian giant eggplant was aptly so: what was better than a soft bed that absorbed all the healthy fat oozing from Sanday fish and the sweet spicy sauce?

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Coconut Caramelised Baguette with White Chocolate Light Ganache and Fresh Turmeric Braised Pineapple
To end the night with sweet note, Cuisine Wat Damnak whipped out another unusual combo. Yes, I sure loved the coconut aroma with crumbly crispy baguette but better still, it was soaked with pineapple sweetened naturally by the braising and accentuated with white chocolate ganache. What about the turmeric? Nah, you would probably not noticed it at all.

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Steamed Dark Chocolate Cake with Passion Fruit Mousse and Rice Praline
Though this was not as exciting as its another half, it was a well executed dolci on its own. The cake was soft and moist; the mousse was light and refreshing; the rice praline was a nice touch of texture.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = USD78 (6-course for two and a bottle of white)

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A meal as good as this will never be complete without a glass of wine

IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance - 5/5
  • Price - 5/5
  • Food - 5/5
  • Verdict - I would surely come again! (Psst, menu is changed weekly so you can practically go every week!)

DINING INFO:

Cuisine Wat Damnak
Address: Wat Damnak village, Sala Kamreuk Commune, Siem Reap, Cambodia (Between Psa Dey Hoy market and Angkor High School)
Operation Hours: 6.30pm - 9.30pm (Tues - Sat)
Tel: +855 (0)77 347 762
Credit Card: Yes

Feb 16, 2016

Cambodia Travelogue: Getting Hands Dirty with Khmer Street Food & Tomb Raiding (30 Jan 2015)

Traveling definitely took a toll on us - we crashed around 10pm the day before, yet we ended up waking up around 10am. After a quick preparation, we headed out from Golden Papaya Resthouse on foot to Phsar Chas, in seek of some yummy Khmer street food.

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Spotting Grilled Bananas and Mysteriously Wrapped-Up Goodies
Along Hospital Street, we first spotted this battered wooden cart showcasing some ready grilled bananas on skewers and mysteriously wrapped-up goodies in banana leaves. We did not stop to buy.

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More Goodies Along the Same Street
Few steps ahead, we came across another stall selling similar things as the first, plus more. This time round, we stopped and bought a skewer of grilled bananas and two different wrapped-up goodies (not knowing what exactly we were buying).

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Glutinous Rice Filled with Meat
The grilled banana was rather disappointing - it was dry and tart as it was unripe and possibly not the sweeter breed. The two wrapped-up goodies did make up for the bananas though. Look at the doneness of the glutinous rice! It promised (and delivered) soft and chewy bites, along with the sweetened bananas and flavourful minced meat respectively.

Total Damage = USD 2

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Baguette Stall Right In Front of Siem Reap Provincial Hospital
As I was busy devouring the yummy glutinous rice with minced meat, we caught sight of this baguette stall, strategically located in front of the entry of Siem Reap Provincial Hospital. We just had to try it!

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Pork Baguette (USD 1)
This was our pork baguette for sharing. You probably couldn't locate the meat but I was sure that the seller put a skewer of meat into it. The whole package was heavily doused with sweet sauce (yes, Cambodian loves their food sweet) and somewhere in between each bite, my tongue would register the tenderness and juiciness of pork meat in it, contrasting strongly against the crispy yet fluffy baguette.

Total Damage = USD 1

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Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar

By the time we reached Phsar Chas, we were still hunting for more food to fill our empty bellies. This was when we chanced upon this Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar, which looked like a more affordable Khmer food establishment and seemingly well accepted by foreigners.

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Egg Rolls @ Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar
To begin with, we ordered this appertiser, egg rolls, which looked like rolled up roti telur. Looks could be deceiving - this egg rolls were too thick (Malaysian's roti telur can be better than this), however, the sauce (sweet, just like how the Cambodian likes it) did compensate for the lack of fluffiness I was hoping for.

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Stir Fry Pork with Rice @ Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar
Despite the grilled bananas, glutinous rice and baguette, tanner half went all out for a full meal with this stir fry pork with rice. The pork was cooked to perfection - it was tender, flavourful and loaded with caramelised onions. He was a happy man!

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Khmer Soup with Beef
I, on the other hand, was going easy with this Khmer soup with beef. Surprisingly, it steered away from the usual sweetness in most Khmer food. Instead, it was sour and loaded with herbs, which was a refreshing change I was looking for. That aside, the beef was slightly overcooked, presenting more resistance than I would like it to be.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = USD 8.50

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Fruit Juice-On-The-Go @ Phsar Chas (USD 1)
For dessert, we grabbed a rambutan shake from this fruit stall right opposite Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar. Compared to the avocado shake we had the day before, this was oversaturated with ice, making the shake too diluted to my liking.

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Our Mountain Bikes (USD 4/Day)
Oh well, we still had plenty to catch up for the day. Let's hop on the mountain bikes and ride 13km to Ta Prohm! You must be thinking, "Damn, you seriously rode 13km to Ta Prohm?". You bet we did, not to mention the scorching hot afternoon sun and precarious traffic in Siem Reap!

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Tall Spungs @ Entrance of Ta Prohm
To enter Ta Prohm, which is part of Angkor Archaeological Park, you need to purchase an admission pass at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat. 1-day, 3-day and 7-day passes are priced at USD20, USD40, and USD60 respectively. Upon payment, you will be given an Angkor Pass stating the date of entry and expiry, with your photo (taken on the spot, free of charge) on the side for verification purpose.

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Sneaking Around Ta Prohm
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"Help, I Am Stucked!" @ Ta Prohm
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Oh Look, That's The "Exit" @ Ta Prohm
By the time we arrived at Ta Prohm, we were exhausted. It was an enormous relief to be under the shade of tall spungs. Better still, hide in the dark ruins, unmolested by the glorious sun, and enjoy the chilly air!

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Devatas @ Ta Prohm
All over the ground of Ta Prohm, you will find countless stone carvings of standing minor female deities named Devatas. Alongside with Apsaras, the divine nymphs or celestial dancing girls, Devatas is one of the dominating motives in the whole Angkor Archaeological Park.

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The Tallest Spung in Ta Prohm
Traversing across the ruins of Ta Prohm, I couldn't help to feel disappointment by the state of condition it was in, though it was intentionally so.

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Thick Crawling Limbs of the Tallest White Tree @ Ta Prohm
Despite all adversities, the spungs rose tall and proud, supported by its thick crawling limbs across the ruined structures of Ta Prohm.

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Stacking Stone by Stone @ Ta Prohm
Sometimes, we couldn't help but amazed at the workmanship of Khmer architecture. Stone by stone, it was stacked in such angle that it supported each other's weight to form the shapes the architect so desired. Their intelligence was formidable.

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Goodbye Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm was a living evidence of the timeless perpetuation of the power of nature. It reminds us that nature will continually evolve through adversities and perpetuate through time while we lay peacefully under the embrace of nature as and when such times come.

What do you say to some "tomb raiding"?


IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Random Mobile Snacks Stall - 1/5
    • Random Mobile Baguette stall - 2/5
    • Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar - 3/5
    • Random Mobile Juice Stall - 3/5
  • Price
    • Random Mobile Snacks Stall - 3/5
    • Random Mobile Baguette stall - 5/5
    • Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar - 5/5 
    • Random Mobile Juice Stall - 5/5
  • Food
    • Random Mobile Snacks Stall - 3/5
    • Random Mobile Baguette stall - 4/5
    • Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar - 3/5
    • Random Mobile Juice Stall - 2/5
  • Verdict
    • Random Mobile Snacks Stall - Do try their wrapped-up goodies. It was really good and filling
    • Random Mobile Baguette stall - An easy snack on the go. Double up if you need to for the portion was quite small
    • Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar - Affordable Khmer food place with plenty of options for one to choose from. Oh, do I mention they serve cheap local draft beer too?
    • Random Mobile Juice Stall - Nah, don't try rambutan shake (or maybe any shake).

My personal attractions verdicts for:

Ta Prohm - If you have a tour guide and chauffeur, visiting Ta Prohm should be an easy task on your itinerary. Being there made me reflect on how minuscule I am in the whole wide world. Let's just say Ta Prohm is a place for self enlightenment.


DINING INFO:

Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar
Street 9, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Operation Hours: N/A (They serve brunch, lunch and dinner)
Tel: +855 63 964 154
Credit Card: No

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