IT’S just fascinating, that if I wait long enough at some corner café in the city, the food will come to me – courtesy of the mobile food carts of Phnom Penh. Honest down-to-earth motorbike vendors who are feeding the hungry hordes like construction workers at very affordable prices of 2,000 to 3,000 riels or the adventurous tourist – courageously with an iron stomach — who wants to savour the cuisine of the masses on a backpacker budget.
Among the more popular stalls would see this middle-aged lady dishing out in minutes, a serving of stir-fried noodles (pic above) called Lok Cha with beef, bean sprouts, broccoli, and chives. Maybe fried with beef and a fried egg for topping. Add chilies if wish. Locals usually flock to these delicious food carts.
One particular vendor that I love watching, camps right in front of the hotel and the man doesn’t even get down from his longish stall. He crawls around inside much like a crouching tiger, with BBQ grill at one end, a sink at the other. In between, he cooks on order and his mini bar includes bottles of whiskies and Angkor beer aplenty. So some locals literally spend a Saturday night crowded around his foodcart on plastic stools enjoying a chicken BBQ.
Another popular moving street food is this vendor selling chive cakes fried in flat pans, made from glutinous rice and showered with sweet sauce. Resembling small pancake buns, called Num Kachey. Which is crispy outside, chewy inside. A favorite Cambodian street snack costing as little as 500 riels.
And if along comes a long flat cart on wheels, I am wary not to flag it down and turn a Whiter Shade of Pale – it is loaded with snails, maybe freshwater and seasoned with red chili, garlic, salt and sold by the cup to snack on. You really have to be adventurous — or be French? — to gobble this.
The wonder of it all is that countries like conservative Brunei (likes shoplot cafes), capital-rich Malaysia (new young generation vendors operate in stylishly painted mobile food vans) and first-world Singapore (hawker complex with a whole street of dishes under one roof) has curbed this foodie culture on wheels. Which is why Cambodia is simply out of this world, Bon appetit, everybody have Good Times2 this weekend!