If it weren’t for this incredible food adventure on my last morning in Phnom Penh, I couldn’t have said there was anything I particularly enjoyed during my time in the city. The night prior was complete with rotten smelling food markets, and aggressive Cambodian children throwing garbage at me and kicking me in the streets. I went to bed thinking of Phnom Penh not on a positive note.
As I woke up early the next morning, I headed to the top of the hotel for breakfast. From up high I stood on the balcony overlooking the water sparkling from the sunshine. I ate a freshly baked croissant and drank some freshly squeezed orange juice. There was no one else present eating, just me. It was a much more relaxed experience of Phnom Penh already – new day, new experience, new feelings. After a few more slices of delicious sliced pineapple, I headed downstairs to meet the chef that would be guiding me as well as a few others who opted for the morning market tour of Phnom Penh.
Ducky believes in visiting places enjoyed by locals rather than guidebooks – using food as a means to understand cultures and to bring people together. She met us in the hotel lobby and we traveled via tuk tuk to a place that has zero other tourists present: the morning market. These markets were a stark contrast to the ones I walked through the night previously. Everything was so fresh and lively, with absolutely no odor except for the faint hints of coconut and lime. The locals were busy at work arranging their fruit and vegetable stands, shredding coconut or chopping up fresh meat. My eyes widened as I took in my surroundings, my fingers tightening around my camera lens overwhelmed by what or whom I should take a photo of first.
As a group we weaved in and out of the market stands, with Ducky pointing out and explaining a few odd foods here and there, such as rambutan, mangosteen, and a coagulated blood bucket. The locals welcomed my photography after I would gesture if it was alright to take a photo. I always smiled and thanked them and received nothing but wide, genuine smiles in return. I felt a big smile plastered on my face throughout the whole visit, absolutely loving the unique experience of being part of the local morning market routine.
First we sampled several kinds of sticky donuts that were drizzled with various toffee coatings and powders. Then we stopped to enjoy what I would say my absolute favourite meal in Southeast Asia is: Bahn Hoi. It’s a very close contender to chicken pad thai, yes, but its uniqueness is what takes the lead.
The lady we visited is famous for her delicious Bahn Hoi, and she completely sells out by 11 am. She is then done for the day and spends the rest of her day at home with her family. We arrived early to ensure we would be able to enjoy her dish. Served with a fresh, cool iced coffee, Bahn Hoi is a fabulous dish with so many delicious ingredients:
Rice noodles, cucumber, lettuce, bean shoots, anise basil, mint, chopped up vegetarian spring rolls, pork, pork loaf, coconut milk, fish sauce, crusted dried shrimp, crushed peanuts, and chili on the side.
The flavours were amazing. It is quite difficult to write this now without a bowl in front of me to enjoy. To all traveling to Southeast Asia, find yourself a fresh bowl of Bahn Hoi, and tell them Alli sent you. They will have no idea what you’re talking about, but I just wanted to say that. Even better, if you know you will be in Phnom Penh, get in touch with Ducky for her morning market tour.