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blog Cambodia; blog the planet.

Mar 15, 2006

Phnomenon Interview

Phnomenon Interview

Those who favor tidbits in electronic and culinary form may take a liking to 'Phnomenon', a Cambodian food weblog that has webbed up an impressive amount of unique reviews over the last few months. www.phnomenon.com

Editor Phil dishes up the details on how it came to be:

1. Are you a 'foodie'? Do you have any special dietary needs or is it just that you like expanding your palate?

Foodie? Yes and no. I like quality scoff and swill, and talking about the process of how it was made, grown, butchered, or brewed but I can't be bothered with the pretentiousness and exclusivity that tends to seep into conversations about food. As for dietary needs, there is a Chinese saying that says: "?????????" which means something along the lines of "if its back faces the sky, you can eat it". I'm willing to try anything once, except for primates.

2. Why a food blog?

I didn't want to be another Westerner who came to Cambodia and wrote a vague "how amazing is Angkor" blog, that marvels at the authenticity of their own experience. Every second backpacker who does their week transit from Bangkok to Saigon via Siem Reap has one of those.

3. Why "Phnomenon"? (And who designed the cool logo?)

I'm a devotee of the very bad pun. I designed the logo but the site is a vanilla implementation of the Wordpress (www.wordpress.org) default layout. I'm in the process of re-doing the whole site layout in the same style as the logo but that process involves me learning the vagaries of CSS and having some spare time on my hands.

4. Why street food?

Nobody has written anything about the street food in Cambodia in English, apart from the occasional mention in travel guidebooks that say in all likelihood, Cambodian street food will kill you. As millions of Khmer people can attest this is mostly untrue. I'm also a fan of Saigon food blog, Noodlepie (www.noodlepie.com) which has a heavy orientation towards street food and it left me wondering why no one in Phnom Penh had written anything like it. The street food in Cambodia is similar but mostly distinct from it's neighbours in Thailand and Vietnam, and although the street food scene isn't as developed as either place yet, it is certainly on the way up.

5. Worst meal in Cambodia so far?

Nhoam K'daam Prai (Fermented Freshwater Crab Salad) in Siem Reap at a classic plastic-chair-and-metal-table Khmer restaurant with some of my Khmer workmates. While they're alive, the freshwater crab lives in holes in the rice paddy, where it plays an important role in the ecosystem as a parasite magnet. When they're captured and dead, Khmer people ferment them whole in their own juices and salt water, and then use them raw to make a fresh salad. Obviously, nothing in this process set the alarm bells ringing, not even my knowledge of the term "foodborne trematode". Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, I've managed to retain most of my own intestinal tract.

6. Contenders for best meal?

That's very difficult. Learning to cook my own fish amok (a mousseline Khmer fish curry) has been one of my highlights, as is my weekend morning routine of shopping at the local markets and grazing on whatever street food I happen to catch sight of along the way. I almost enjoy the process of finding the food as much as the meal


7. Does exploring cuisine give you additional insights into local life?

Knowing anything about the local food automatically gives you something in common with everyone. Khmer people can be extremely passionate about their own cuisine, especially their rice and dried fish. I can't tell the difference between the nation of origin of rice, but Khmer people can, and will complain vociferously if it isn't Cambodian.

8. How long will you stay in Cambodia, and what future items are you looking to ingest?

My plan is (loosely) two years in Cambodia and I'm almost a year in already. I have a long list of restaurants to try and whenever I see something that I haven't tried on the side of the road, I'll have a go at it. As for my immediate commestible requirements, I'm chasing after a waffle guy at the moment, because my girlfriend brought back a plastic bottle full of thin honey from Mondulkiri last week. Over the last year, there seems to be an influx of wafflemakers into Phnom Penh.

There is also a pantheon of awful beer to be tasted, but I hope I can knock that over quickly.

9. Where do you see your blog going post-Cambodia, if at all?

I'll end it, unless people continue to visit or I can hand over the keys to a successor. One of the problems with writing anything about restaurants or bars in Cambodia is that they have a bad tendency to close after a few months in operation, so the blog will go stale quickly.

10. If Phnomenon was edible what would its culinary analogue be?

A deep-fried beard of bees: crispy on the outside, buzzing and stinging on the inside.

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