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Pepper Crab In Kep | Getting Off-The-Beaten-Path In Cambodia : Epicure & Culture

By Alicia Raeburn. This submit initially appeared on Miles Much less Traveled.

Joe and I have a behavior of driving distances for food that might make many different individuals uncomfortable.

In the start of our relationship, Joe lived in Hoboken, NJ — a quick hop via the tunnel from NYC.

Apart from the fact that it’s New York City, and nothing is ever quick in terms of driving by means of a tunnel.

As two individuals moderately obsessed with eating, we began our love story over meals.

So naturally, dwelling outdoors of probably the greatest food cities on the earth, it was not unusual for us to comply with and fulfill our impulse longing for meatballs at 11 pm on a Sunday. Or take a two-hour journey deep into Brooklyn for a slice of pizza.

It turns out we are not any totally different once we’re touring.

Psst, don’t overlook to pin this publish for later!

We’ve got a habit of doing minimal research about our vacation spot before we get there.

A number of must-sees and stopping points are enough to get us there. Then we let the remaining work itself out upon arrival.

Combined with our bizarre food obsessions, we frequently let the route comply with our stomachs.

Exploring Kep Via The Palate

After operating a half marathon in Cambodia, it led us to Kep, a small seaside town on the Southeastern coast of Cambodia in the Kampot province.

This area is quick turning into world-renowned for 2 things:

Crabs and peppercorns, a pairing that has delightfully been combined in a mouth-watering dish greatest experienced at the unique market.

Vacationers find out about it so it’s not completely off-the-beaten-path, though in our eyes it still appeared pretty undeveloped.

We stayed in the riverside city of Kampot, and while this story focuses on a fantastic day we spent consuming crab in Kep, about two hours south, there are lots of issues to do without ever leaving Kampot.

There’s a paved street to get to Kep and a smattering of resorts and guesthouses, however that’s about it.

You can see the standard carts selling seashell trinkets and t-shirts, but proper behind that you simply nonetheless find local fishing families pulling crab straight from the ocean in giant woven traps.

crab traps cambodia

Households pulling up crab traps

We walked as much as one of the traps, seeing a lady pull it out of the water seconds before, and we timidly stood to the aspect while a gaggle subsequent to us expertly haggled.

Moments handed and an area man standing next to us engaged us in dialog.

“I hate seeing tourists ripped off,” he stated. “Let me talk to them.”

We have been too confused and overwhelmed to argue.

In addition to, he had already began spit firing conversation in Khmer with the lady behind the basket.

Seems this man’s identify was Lee, and we have been on our method to spending the rest of the day with him and his family.

Exploring Kep With A Native

Lee was born in Cambodia however moved to Australia virtually 40 years in the past after surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide and has never left.

He’s a retired chef and owned his own Thai restaurant in Melbourne for 30 years.

After haggling our crab right down to what I’m positive was nonetheless greater than he paid, we obediently followed him to the subsequent cease:

A visit to the unsung genius who proceeded to rework our wriggling little monsters right into a seafood feast of pure deliciousness.

Inside the scattered stalls and tables of the market, a person stood among stalls out there behind two moveable wood-fired burners, each with a big steel wok set on prime.

After adding recent wooden kindling and letting the wok warmth, he tossed our crabs onto the pan with a generous dousing of oil.

Inside minutes, he had added strings of the recent green peppercorns well-known in this province and a chili pepper sauce to our now vibrant pink crabs, handing it over to us in an enormous container.

Pepper plantation Kampot CambodiaThe crops where the very scrumptious green peppercorns are grown

Two more containers crammed with white rice later, and we have been settled into a desk beneath the shaded tarps of the market with Lee and his two younger cousins.

As gusts of wood hearth smoke swept over us, we chatted with him about food, family, and all the things in between.

crab meal in cambodia

Delicious pepper crab in Kampot

An Sudden Good friend

There was one thing so acquainted about Lee, and we instantly appreciated him.

Perhaps it was the fact that he had pushed three hours that morning simply to eat crab, or that he was going to drive one other hour the subsequent day for a lunch spot he simply had to attempt.

No matter it was, we beloved it.

Lee provided to take us again to Kampot, so we despatched our tuk-tuk on its method and spent the remainder of the recent and sunny day being pushed around the province in a cool air-conditioned automotive.

He kindly switched the radio to English love songs as soon we obtained in the automotive, and earlier than we knew it we have been heading up the street listening to Eric Clapton’s “You Look Wonderful Tonight” and listening to Lee snicker and joke together with his household in the automotive, translating for us once in a while.

We visited an area lodge for the night time, which unfortunately I didn’t write the identify of down. It was an unimaginable community-run bungalow website with stilted huts within the water that Lee liked supporting to ensure the money was going immediately again into the group.

Lee cared deeply for his country and it’s individuals, one thing that got here via constantly throughout the day.

He used to stay in resorts, he stated, but he noticed how tourism was benefitting a number of wealthy and leaving the rest of Cambodia in poverty.

Now, he opted for places like this one, the place each greenback went right back to the individuals who reside there.

Kep Pepper Crab CookingKep pepper crab within the making.

Each time we thought we have been too full to eat more, Lee stopped off somewhere, and we might dutifully eat more.

Cake In Kampot

Back in Kampot, we made a fast pit stop off at a bit of house on the aspect of the street for Lee to order desserts — 130 of them to be actual.

This was the final place in Kampot that made them within the conventional method, a recipe handed down by the owner’s grandmother.

The muffins are available for pre-order solely. There’s no storefront, but this easy facility with its lone lady operation is legendary among locals for being the perfect candy shop within the region.

Lee stated that folks typically order the desserts by the a whole lot earlier than touring.

Which I believed as a result of the muffins have been unreal.

Wrapped in a particular sort of palm frond that grows around the brackish waters of the river, coconut and sesame seeds are positioned inside with sugar and then grilled.

The result’s a barely sticky, candy, flattened pancake harking back to a coconut macaroon, though is admittedly so much more. We stood in her driveway and devoured every delightful chew, not hesitating to lick any small stays off of our fingers.

Cambodia Reminiscences

On the best way again to town Lee asked his young cousin to tug off on a aspect street as a result of he needed to point out us something.

We slowed right down to navigate the pothole-riddled dust street along the river and seemed out at what was Lee’s property.

It was farmland with fruit timber dotting the inexperienced grass overlooking the river and surrounding mountains.

He had bought it to make a house there but had bought it a couple of years again when he realized his family in Melbourne wouldn’t come back.

Lee stared out the window as he relayed to us his family’s response to him:

“What are you crazy? After living through all the suffering in the Pol Pot era you want to go back?”

He smiled softly to himself and we did not know what to say, so all of us stated nothing.

Lee did not linger on it. As an alternative, he took us to see the brand new bungee jumping, flying fox, and kayaking spot that they had arrange proper down the street which had elevated his property value proper after he bought it.

cambodia zipline

The new zipline

We stopped by his neighbor’s snack stand on the aspect of the street, where he was capable of scour two durians for $20/piece. Apparently, the actual Cambodian ones aren’t low cost.

He purchased us recent coconuts that the seller cut up in two, and we scooped the delicious white meat out.

We found a pet to play with and entertained ourselves until thanking them with the one Khmer phrase we knew, “saum arkoun”, a lot to their delight.

Pepper crab Kampot CambodiaThe finished product!

After our day together, Lee and his cousin simply dropped us off at our lodge doorstep, wishing us farewell.

We don’t know his last identify nor do we’ve any solution to contact him. What we do have is the reminiscence of one of many kindest individuals we’ve ever met on our travels.

Joe and I deducted from our conversations that Lee had been a youngster when the Khmer Rouge inflicted a lethal Cambodian genocide within the 1970’s.

It’s beyond imagining the sorts of horrors he should have skilled.

And it only added to the mind-blowing undeniable fact that Lee appeared completely satisfied.

Not simply regular joyful, however genuinely-in-love-with-life-and-everyone-in-it joyful.

If he was not buying us treats, he was making his family snort or bringing a smile to the face of whoever he was buying food from. He was just pure pleasure, and you may not help but feel pleased once you have been with him.

We don’t know why Lee adopted us that day, but are extraordinarily glad he did.

Lee simply stepped in and have become a volunteer guide, and shortly, a good friend.

It was the type of kindness that makes you question every thing and marvel what else you’ve been lacking once you’ve been side-stepping these conversations with strangers.

Additionally, it will get lonely on the street, and these moments with strangers could make all the distinction some days.

The crab ended up being among the best meals we’ve ever had, and the day become considered one of our favorite travel reminiscences of our trip all over the world merely because of the kindness of a stranger.

Have you ever ever deeply related with locals while touring?

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How we had a special local experience while searching for pepper crab in Kep, Cambodia

*Featured picture by way of Clemson/flickr

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Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t examine in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been educating English in Thailand, trekking her means by means of South America, backpacking Europe solo, street tripping via Australia, agritouring by means of Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.