At the moment I almost exclusively buy food from the supermarket. This can get pretty expensive, so I thought I would try to be brave and head to Phsar Leu. Phsar Leu is the largest market in Siem Reap, and, being on the outskirts of the city, is not geared for tourists. Therefore, it’s really Khmer in feel and style.
The main part of the market is covered, with stalls selling clothes, fabrics, hardware, books, shoes, fans. If you want it, Phsar Leu probably has it. Around the edge of the market is where the food is sold. I headed around the outside, dodging the motorbikes squeezing through the throngs of customers. As you go around the east end, you first see the cockles and the bread sellers. But I wanted to buy chicken and red peppers. I looked around the vegetable stalls but couldn’t find any I liked the look of, so headed along the south end, the furthest part from the main road. There I found a stall with some nice looking peppers.
“Matay plow moy gilo man?” I asked in my poor Khmer.
“Bram buy bowen.” ($2)
“Baht. Som gilo moy.”
I think she understood I wanted a kilogram of peppers. I don’t know why I decided I wanted a kilogram; that’s six red peppers as it turns out. I paid and walked back to a stall where the meat looked relatively fresh.
The meat stalls aren’t air conditioned, nor iced. They are shaded, though. However, this means the meat is sat in the heat for quite a while, and sometimes there are flies. This didn’t seem to have many flies and the meat didn’t look dry so I thought I would go for it. (A lack of flies, however, can mean the meat has been sprayed with insect repellent.)
I stood and waited my turn while a Khmer woman flicked through the livers, choosing the ones she wanted to buy. As I watched, a smiley boy from the next stall came to change some riel notes with a girl from this stall. While he was chatting he rested the wad of 500 riel notes on the pile of raw beef. (Note to self: wash hands after handling money.)
It was my turn so I asked for a kilogram of chicken. It was 9000 riel, or $2.25, which is pretty good!
I paid with three dollars, and without wiping her hands of the blood, she got my change and handed it to me. (Note to self: use exact change.)
On the way home, I decided the baguettes were too tempting and bought myself one. I then had to dodge a few motorbikes, kittens and pools of blood on the way out.
Then I had to prepare the meat. I was told soaking it in a bicarbonate soda solution was the best thing to do. So I washed the meat, and soaked it in the fridge for an hour. This is to wash and germs/insecticides and the bicarbonate soda acts as a tenderiser.
I also gave the peppers a bit of a rinse with the vegetable soap.
Then I cut up some of the meat. It turns out I’m really rubbish at cutting around the bones. Either I waste a load of the meat or I end up with little shards of bone that I have to pick out. In the UK, it’s all done for you and everything is so sanitised. At first, I really struggled to eat meat when the bones were left in, but now I’m pretty used to it.
I thought I would put the baguette to good use and filled it with chicken and red pepper.
I also cooked a red curry later.
The best but is that I’ve not been ill (in fact, the only digestive problems I’ve encounter is due to the copious amounts of red pepper I’ve been eating).
I finally finished off the chicken yesterday (it made four meals) but I’ve still got a pepper knocking about. I’m quite pleased that I was brave enough to try the market and will probably do it again.
It’s strange, because Khmer people can’t understand why westerners buy meat at the supermarket. The meat is days old and has been frozen, whereas the meat in the market is fresh that day. Westerners, however, can’t stand how real and visceral these markets are. The sights and smells of the market definitely need getting used to, but I really enjoyed the experience.