I think cooking classes are one of the best ways to get to know the cuisine of an area. I love them so much, in fact, that I wrote this article about why I think they’re a great thing to do when you travel. I also love that a lot of cooking classes include a visit to a local market, so I can ask questions about unfamiliar produce (like banana flowers and mangosteens!)
The markets in Southeast Asia are best in the early morning. That’s when everything is fresh and the weather isn’t quite as steamy as it gets later in the day. Sambath met us at 8:00 AM and we headed to Battambang’s central market to get the ingredients for our cooking class.
This market had everything! Freshly butchered cows, pigs, and chickens, all kinds of beautiful fruits and vegetables, fresh and dried fish…and FROGS!
Snakes and frogs like to hang out in rice fields, and since Cambodia grows a lot of rice, there are plenty of them around to eat.
We arrived at Sambath’s house on the outskirts of town and started prepping our ingredients. We peeled some sweet potatoes, cut up eggplant, and I sliced up some fresh turmeric and lemongrass for curry paste.
Once the curry paste was ready to go, we stir fried it with chicken, vegetables, coconut milk, and a little fish sauce to make yellow curry. It was rich and not too spicy, with a nice blend of salty (from the fish sauce) and sour (from keffir lime leaves and lemongrass). A little sugar stirred in while cooking rounded out the flavor.
Next we made fish amok, which we’ve seen on menus everywhere. We cooked chunks of catfish and fresh vegetables with curry paste and ground peanuts. We put that mixture in a little box made out of a banana leaf, then topped it with some coconut cream. After about 20 minutes in the steamer, they were perfect!
Our third and final dish was a beef stir fry called loc lac, which is served over raw vegetables with black pepper sauce. I’d never thought about combining cooked and raw foods that way, but it was really delicious the way the textures and temperatures contrasted, and the lemony pepper sauce was a perfect mix of hot, sour, and sweet.
When I get back to America, I’ll be making these dishes (and vegetarian versions of them!) and posting recipes on the blog, so be sure to check back!