Travels in Thailand & Cambodia

 
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Back to snowy London, England with a depressing jolt.   On Sunday I arrived into Gatwick, from South East Asia, wearing no coat, no money left in the bank and a car in the pound. But I’m back from an unforgettable trip: ten flights, three weeks, a tan, a tattoo and pot belly later. Like the food blogging bore that I am, I recorded, photographed and interrogated the chefs and waiters, infuriating my friends I’ve no doubt. It was by far the most inspiring journey I’ve been on and, in reality, I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and try out my new discoveries.

First stop was Phuket and I owe my Thai mate Buzz Wattana a big thank you for an amazing week. His appetite will never cease to amaze me … for him, everyday began with amazing fried chicken and sticky rice in plastic bags from the market and finished with a large dose of restaurant overordering.

The epicurean highlight of my trip was undoubtedly a restaurant called Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It's run by a French couple and last year made it into Asia’s Best 50 restaurants, the first Cambodian restaurant ever to do so. Cambodia is a stunning country: unspoilt and still living in the shadow of the horrific Khmer Rouge regime and civil war. Only opening its doors to the outside world in 1993, Siem Reap, home of the famous ancient Angkor temples, is ridiculously charming. I was visiting an old friend from uni, one of the many expats who’ve settled there to open artistic & cool shops, cafes & bars.

Joannes Riviere, the chef, is inspired by local Cambodian ingredients and traditional flavour combinations, but juxtaposes them with his French culinary roots.  Many of the restaurants in Siem Reap have European menus and import their produce, which is what makes this place so special.  Due to extreme poverty and oppressive regimes, the Cambodians have had to be resourceful. Sticky rice is wrapped in banana leaves when you buy it from the market, and they use old water bottles to sell their homemade chilli sauces.  Similarly Riviere has foraged and researched edible flowers, herbs & plants from the countryside around him.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be posting some new recipes inspired by my travels, here's the first: Cambodian stir fried vegetables and sesame tofu.