Kampot seems to be a destination for expats to open small bakeries, bookstores, hotels and restaurants, or start an NGO. I visited a bakery owned by a German lady from Hamburg called Salt and Pepper, where I tasted the most delicious “pepper nut” cookies, which contain white Kampot pepper. The owner and I bonded over reminiscences of the beautiful Alster Lake in the center of Hamburg, where I used to go running when I lived there last year. Now I am kicking myself for not getting the recipe for the cookies from her…
The Kampot region is famous for its fresh pepper, so we visited some plantations and I bought a big bag of red peppercorns. I also got a bag of local sea salt, which I’m told is delicious sprinkled on mango.
Being here you are spoiled with fresh tropical fruit of all kinds, most of which I’ve never seen before. Durian, dragonfruit, jackfruit, papaya, coconut, dozens of types of banana, mango, guava… The list is very long. Warning: just because a fruit is tropical does not mean it is delicious!
- The crushed sugarcane juice they sell at stands on the side of the road is fragrant and refreshing, and not as sweet as I expected.
- Durian may look intriguing with its large green prickly exterior and soft fleshy consistency on the inside, but it tastes like sweaty feet (and I am being much kinder than some of my friends).
- Jackfruit looks similar to durian on the outside but on the inside has dozens of pits with thin layers of fruit wrapped around each, which taste sweet but have a less satisfying consistency than many other fruits.
- Dragonfruit, whis is the fruit of a cactus, has a very fun exterior. It is red with what look like scales (this is what it looks like). The inside is mild flavored. In Can Tho I tasted a drink/dessert made of pureed dragonfruit with chunks of aloe vera, and the consistency pleasantly resembled a bubble tea.
- Green papaya tastes a bit like avocado but is not as flavorful. We were instructed to scoop it with a spoon directly out of the quartered fruit after sprinkling sugar on top.
- Green mango is served grated into a salad with a sweet chilli dressing and is one of the most delicious dishes I tasted in Cambodia, which is saying a lot. Sometimes they serve it with smoked fish, but I did not try that.
- Banana flower is fun-looking but doesn’t taste of anything, whereas the tiny bananas, no longer than a finger, are scrumptious, and this is coming from someone who since the age of 3 has been a staunch hater of bananas.
- If you are ever offered palm juice, just say NO. It is the most disgusting and disappointing liquid ever to emerge from a fruit. It looks deceptively like coconut juice, but when you take a sip it fills your mouth with the stale flavor of cigarettes (go figure) and you feel sickened and somewhat violated.
Speaking of strange foods, we’ve been getting pretty adventurous. Today Steph and I tried an egg that had a chicken fetus in it. They served it boiled with pickled garlic, Thai basil and a salt+pepper+lime mix that is the accompaniment to most dishes. We cracked the top and ate it with a spoon like an oeuf à la coque. It looked foul but tasted just like a regular hard-boiled egg. One of the ladies indicated that eating it would give us strength and vitality. We documented the entire experience, including our grimacing faces…