new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Sea Creatures I Have Et in Kampot and Kep

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sea Creatures I Have Et in Kampot and Kep

I have this backlog of photos on my computer, staring at me, and they're from the Kep Crab Market. And I wanted to share them with you. They relate to no particular restaurant but do give some impression of Cambodia's pretty remarkable array of edible and (mostly) delicious sea creatures - and what goes into catching them and bringing them to market.

A bit of complicated and death defying Internet Research revealed this strange creature is a Melo miltonis sea snail, also known as the southern bailer or "bailer-volute." It is named "the bailer" because the (de-snailed) shell apparently is extremely handy for bailing out a sinking canoe or small water vessel. Like everything else that draws breath on this planet, Cambodians eat it. How's the taste? A colleague of mine noted, "I thought something that looked that freaky had to be delicious. I WAS WRONG." Noted.

All this dazzling sea-life is brought to the surface by means of rather small and basic boats, which troll the waters near Kep daily and bring the goods back to the market. Crab traps are ubiquitous, and almost all of the seafood sales appear to be conducted by women. Arguments over crab size and quality can get exceptionally heated, and everyone gathers around and begins eyeballing the crustaceans when a trap is brought in from its mooring near the shore.

During the prime-time of day for seafood sales, a number of people will be standing around in the water, waiting to be called in. Kep is tiny and quiet but the seafood market is by far the busiest thing about the place.

This is the standard view from all the Crab Market's restaurants - fishing boats bringing in their nets, and people wading into the shallow water to get the crab-traps out. It is all very bucolic, and only occasionally smelly.

The prawns are gorgeous, of course - wild caught, scrumptious - and kept in large yellow buckets by fearsome looking Ladies of a Certain Age. They do try to convince me to buy a bag or two although I am holding a camera and looking every inch the part of the barang, although half-heartedly, and while laughing. Buying prawns out of buckets reminds me of home, of New Orleans.

The Crab Market's restaurants all seem to feature a grill station of some kind, selling seafood of all kinds on a stick to those who prefer to eat ala-carte, or just prefer to eat things off a stick in general. I prefer to sit down for reasons of air conditioning, but the goods look tasty - and eminently simple.

Cambodia happens to possess an abundance of squid. I hope you like tentacles. I sure do.

And here is the Durian, the most infamous of Southeast Asia's fruits, reputed to taste alternately of paradise, a woman's nether region (a-hem), cheese, something in-between cheese and a nice mango, and three-week-old-ass, depending on who you ask. I haven't really made a call on the flavor as no one has offered it to me and I have not yet bothered to try, though I did enjoy a durian milkshake once, a long time ago. I do know that it smells awful (and is not allowed on airplanes in Southeast Asia due to its potentially nausea-inducing effects in close quarters).

Cambodians find endless amusement in foreigners hatred of durian. "Ah, you like that?" one man said, grinning, as I took this photo.

"No, I don't think so," I said, "though I do like krowd (pomelo)."

"None of you like it! Too smelly," he observed, still laughing as he walked away.

Kampot is proud of its durian crop, and happens to have a massive, ornate statue of one smack-dab in the center of town. It is attractively lit up at night and attracts a large number of families. Adults sit and chat around the Giant Durian, and little children chase each other around The Giant Durian, and a small fountain plays around the edges. If only it possessed the olfactory abilities of the real thing.

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