Sampling a village flavor

By Elliot Ambrose

Before arriving in Cambodia, I had already decided that I would sample some of the country’s more exotic fare as a way to complement my total travel experience. On a tour of the village of Kok Tnout today, I was given the chance to do just that.

After a bumpy tuk tuk ride into the center of the village and a short walk through dried up rice fields, our group stopped for a rest in the shade of one residents stilted home. My guide, born in the village himself, arranged for several green coconuts to be plucked from the surrounding trees and hacked open with a machete. We then sat and drank the sweet juice straight from the coconut. While delicious and refreshing, it was not completely alien to me and left me wanting to try more.

Later, our group was shown to a rice mill where a villager was busy making rice wine. Our guide explained to us how the rice is steamed and ground up with yeast and flour into a mixture that is then fermented for over a month, resulting in a highly alcoholic drink. A small tin bowl was dipped into a large vat of the concoction and was passed among the group. The smell was strong but the taste was what struck me. It was more powerful than most spirits in the United States and had me racing for a gulp from my water bottle.

After a boat ride through West Baray Lake, built by the government to store water, we pulled up to the shoreline which was covered in huts and umbrellas. We walked past several stands displaying a variety of items for sale and began making our way back to the tuk tuks. Our guide ran off, only to appear a second later holding a bag full of crickets, which he then offered to the group. Stripping off the wings and legs, I popped the bug into my mouth. I was surprised to find that it tasted much like barbeque and that the texture was actually pleasant. While not the entire group agreed, I enjoyed the snack.

On the ride home, I had a moment to think back on the tastes I had encountered during the day. While they hadn’t been the most adventurous, they had given me a hunger for more.

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