My visit to Siem Reap last year completely whisked me into another dimension. In my mind’s eye I walked among the Khmer people as they bustled about in the marketplace. The women hurry from one stall to another, the bells sewn on their intricate dresses clinking in rhythm to the crunch of grass under their feet. In the distance the King is overseeing the construction of yet another stone temple, this one filled with many smiling faces and requiring more attention to detail from sculptors and carvers.
Everywhere I went in those Cambodian December days, the breeze made the trees sway as though dancing the apsara, their leaves aglow in the morning light like jewels. Slivers of sunlight cast shadows at my feet that moved as if urging me forward. Siem Reap has really pushed my imagination and challenged the depths it would go. It was during this trip I proved to myself that traveling really does give one an abundance of devices to create magic with the mind.
The older I grow, the more I realize that traveling isn’t simply about having another stamp in one’s passport or getting to be in a cool new place. It’s all about living, breathing, and being in a place that is so different from where you come from, yet somehow still strangely familiar in that there’s always something new to see if only you would look with an open mind. It’s about taking in the various unique experiences and making them a part of you. And maybe they can even change you without you noticing. Travel is as much about self-discovery as it is about awareness of the world. And that’s why I love it so much.
I feel very lucky to have been able to visit this wonderful place at a time my mind is at its most ready to embrace as much as it can learn. In fact I don’t think I’ve been so excited to share a travel video as I was with this one. But Siem Reap is hard to capture in a video, especially a video by an amateur like myself. My eyes still lack that sharpness in seeing something special in a seemingly mundane scene, and my technical video-making skills are virtually non-existent. Nonetheless I hope this video provides a glimpse of the magic Siem Reap holds.
It’s a first in any country I’ve ever visited that I spent more time ogling the temples than being curious about certain unique food. Although all the things I put in my mouth during this trip were delicious, I can’t actually remember their names. I do recall I loved every curry dish because of how unique it tasted– more tangy sweet than spicy, the sauce more soup-like than thick. Then being a huge lover of green mangoes, I was actually looking forward to the Cambodian version of green mango salad. Alas it was not served in any of our meals and I completely forgot all about it! So I sought it out in another way right here in the comforts of home.
What I love about the fact that this recipe is a salad is that it’s super easy to put together. Once you have all your ingredients laid out, preparing the dish is literally as easy as 1,2,3. You simply toss everything into a bowl and mix them together. Voila!
This mango salad is different from the Thai version I’ve tasted in that aside from the sour hit from the green mangoes, it employs a perfect balance of sweetness and tang. It’s not spicy though I reckon you can add some chili in there if you wish. I love the playfulness and freshness of the flavours that will have you going for bite after bite.
I’m not sure if many are aware that the Philippines is well-known for its mangoes, both yellow and green alike. I used Philippine green mangoes that are slightly on its way to turning yellow to get that juicy sourness. I like to eat crisp fully-green mangoes with bagoong or fish paste, but for the salad I definitely recommend letting it sit and ripen just a little bit until the flesh gets a bit softer and a bit yellower.
I got this recipe from someone who took a cooking class in Siem Reap, so I pretty much trust the authenticity of it. Not to mention it tastes fantastic. A great dish for green mango-lovers like myself!
- 250 grams chicken or pork, cooked and shredded*
- 400 grams green mango, shredded
- 100 grams carrot, shredded
- 50 to 100 grams basil**
- 150 grams dry shrimp
- 100 grams roasted peanuts, chopped
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon lime juice, plus more as needed
- 1. In a large bowl, mix the cooked meat with the palm sugar, fish sauce, salt, garlic, shallots, and dried shrimp.
- 2. In a smaller bowl, mix together the shredded mango, carrot, and basil. Mix together then add to the meat mixture. Add in about 50 grams of the chopped peanuts then mix the salad together until the ingredients are well-combined.
- 3. Taste and see if it is sour and tangy enough, otherwise add some more lime juice.
- 4. Serve on a plate and sprinkle with more roasted peanuts. You can eat it on its own or as a side-dish.
- * You can also use tofu for a vegetarian version.
- ** Add more or less depending on how much you want the basil flavour in your salad.
By the way, for those of you who missed my Cambodia travel diaries, here are the links:
- Cambodia 2013: Faces, Places, and First Impressions of Siem Reap
- Cambodia 2013: Affirming my appreciation for ruins in the Temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm
- Cambodia 2013: Grand Ol Angkor Wat and the Ton Le Sap Lake
I hope you can visit Cambodia soon so you can understand exactly how I feel. 😉