Last July, we made a short trip out to Siem Reap, Cambodia and we took two food tours during our five day stay. Both our morning and evening tour was with Steven Halcrow , co-founder of Siem Reap Food Tours and an experienced chef. Steve’s familiarity with the Khmer language, food and the sprawling Pasar Leu market made the morning tour a very memorable one. I had a blast photographing . Nothing felt rehearsed as he guided our small group effortlessly through the different sections in the market. The market vendors’ familiarity with Steve and vice versa , made the trip and invaluable one. I would highly recommend to anyone looking to get an authentic insight into Cambodian food and way of life.
It was the start of the rainy season and there had been a downpour the night before. But it was business as usual at Pasar Leu.
Morning scenes. Haggling is a must!
Before we explored the fresh produce section, Steven had bought a few, freshly made, rice-based breakfast treats from the vendors and let us try them. The sweet, fermented rice waffles this friendly lady was making was my favourite.
We even tried some delicious rice noodle soup at the market.
Pasar Leu, like most other markets I’ve been to in South East Asia, was organised into various sections – fresh produce, dry goods, fish, chicken, beef, fresh food stalls etc.
Red amongst the sea of green
There were so many varieties of fruit and vegetables that each seller had – some I could recognise but they were many others I could not name. We learnt from the Steven that the fruit harvest had been affected by the prolonged summer earlier and the harvest of snake fruit (picture above, top left) had been particularly affected by it.
We also got to taste some of the unique fruits the lovely women shared with us thanks to Steven’s Scottish charm. But other times, the ladies teased Steven and then roared with laughter in unison. Those ladies were definitely a cheeky bunch!
Just before the interior of the market, the fermented, pickled, salted and dried seafood were on sale.
Each item for sale was displayed in individual tubs and the sellers would scoop the requested amounts into bags when a purchase was made.
Prahok a fermented fish paste which is an essential ingredient in Cambodian noodle soups.
Beautiful pickled freshwater crabs (above) and vegetables (below)
Vegetable seller’s breakfast
Red Ants and Ants Eggs. Both used in salads. I tried the ants eggs and it didn’t taste of much except that the ‘liquid’ inside each egg bursts when eaten. A texturally interesting ingredient.
Freshwater fish. Due to Siem Reap’s proximity to Tonlé Sap Lake, almost all of the seafood sold at Pasar Leu are from there.
Dried freshwater fish
Stacks of Smoked Fish
Huge pile of pumpkins
In most Asian markets, everything is displayed for the customer to inspect and choose from. In the past, one could even select live chickens and get them slaughtered and cleaned on the spot. People in the past had better knowledge about their food and they knew how to tell if a chicken was ill and hence unsuitable for consumption.
Chickens are displayed this way so that one could tell how fresh and lean the chicken is. Everything displayed is also bought as every part of the animal is used. Steven told us that all the chickens sold there were actually kept in homes and so all of them are free range and organic. I cannot believe how little fat this chicken had.
Likewise, every part of the cow is displayed for the customer to choose from. The meats, right at the back of the market, were all halal and the butchers were all Muslim women. In fact, all the vendors at the market were female. #whoruntheworld
Cambodian beef sausages
A working mum and her kid
More pictures from the villages and Angkor temples coming soon 🙂