A Khmer Cooking Lesson

In the fall of 2015; Nick and I went to Cambodia to celebrate his birthday at the famed Angkor Wat. We had three days to spend in Siem Reap, and one of the things we really wanted to do was take a cooking class. Nick and I love to eat, and Thai and Vietnamese food are among our favorite, but we have not actually tried Cambodian food and we’re very interested to learn the difference and similarities between the neighboring cuisines. While researching online, we found several cooking schools near our hotel by Pub Street, and the school we chose was called Le Tigre de Papier. The cost was reasonable, their scheduled worked with ours, and they had the best reviews.

The class started with a trip to the local market, a mere 10 minutes walk from the restaurant where the class was going to be, and our teacher for that day was also our guide. She was very thorough in explaining to us what the different strange fruits and vegetables are and what they were used for. She also gave us a primer on the most common herbs and spices that Cambodians use in their daily cooking and how they are used. More importantly, she helped us shop for dried herbs and spices that we can take home so we can cook our own version of the dishes she was about to teach us to make.

The way they do their classes is they let each student pick a starter, an entree, and a dessert they want. Nick picked the papaya salad, chicken amok, and coconut bananas; and I picked fresh spring rolls, beef loc lac, and sticky rice mango. Unfortunately, our teacher forgot about my pick for dessert and Nick and I ended up sharing his coconut bananas. No biggie though, as we made enough to feed a small army.

Our class that day was just the two of us so we got all the help and attention we needed. The class started with the teacher introducing us to the ingredients we will be using as well as possible substitutes for the herbs that are only found locally. She also showed us how to properly mash and make a paste with the herbs and spices we’re using to make a strong marinade or base. She also spent time teaching us how to slice vegetables to make them look more attractive and not just functional, as well as how to carve carrots and tomatoes into flowers.

Below is our photo journal of that fun afternoon, as well as links to the recipes we’ve since adapted to suit locally available ingredients here in Chicago.

A local woman getting business done at the market
In addition to fresh produce, the market also sells prepared food.
One of the many fruit stalls
Palm sugar, one of the staples of Southeast Asian kitchens
The vast spice selection
Pickled vegetables
Some of the more exotic fruits ava
Women are the majority sellers in the market
The ingredients for the papaya salad
The spices we’ll be using for the day’s meal
Learning how to make the dressing for the papaya salad
Learning how to season our beef loc lac
Nick and our teacher going over the basics of making chicken amok
Learning how to make carrot flowers
Nick’s first attempt
The final product, our fresh shrimp spring rolls
Our papaya salad
Beef Loc Lac
Chicken Amok
Coconut Banana for dessert
Enjoying the fruits of our labor

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