new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Restaurant BBQ Party: Cambodian BBQ, Live Chickens, Is That a Seagull?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Restaurant BBQ Party: Cambodian BBQ, Live Chickens, Is That a Seagull?

Restaurant BBQ Party
Street 65
Phnom Penh

Cambodian's are big proponents of what I think of as the cook-your-own genre of food. We've got shabu-shabu joints, catch-all "soup" establishments where you cook raw ingredients in a large pot of broth, and, perhaps most characteristically, Cambodian BBQ, or Chhnang Phnom Pleung.

In English, the cooking device is often referred to as a "volcano pot," which does make a certain amount of sense when you look at the thing, which cleverly combines soup and BBQ into one handy location. You're usually given a piece of pork fat to rub over the hot sides of the conical grill, and then grill or boil the raw ingredients at your leisure.

For my friend Jet's birthday, we headed to the neighborhood Cambodian BBQ buffet joint, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A rather creatively decorated and profoundly orange room houses a wide assortment of raw ingredients and some cooked stuff to go along with, as well as desserts (mm, black grass jelly. No, actually, not mmm. More like a foodstuff out of "Alien." Albeit pretty much tasteless.)

You pick out your raw foodstuffs - I tried not to think about who exactly had been touching the tongs used to handle the raw chicken and pork - and then take them back to your table to grill them. You can also mix up your own dipping sauces from a healthy array of choices. Naturally, they'll ply you with pitchers of cheap Cambodian beer, and will look the other way if you are, say, drinking a lot of birthday whiskey (because we totally were).

This particular Khmer BBQ restaurant features a not-very concealed kitchen, where you can pop your head around the corner and see a rather sweaty teenage boy burning down charcoal for the grills. There are also a couple of caged chickens in the corner of the restaurant. No effort has been made to conceal them.

During our long and progressively more sloshed meal, we occasionally would hear the call of what sounded like an anguished seagull coming from the back of the restaurant. I looked around but couldn't find whatever poor critter was making the sound. (Was that REALLY chicken?)

And none of us got food poisoning! Khmer BBQ is the best.

On another note, these little cockles are a Cambodian favorite, and I've developed a taste for them, after finally getting over my fear of flesh-eating shellfish borne micro-organisms. (Good god, don't even consider googling the photos of THAT. Of course you probably just did. Sorry.) They're usually stir-fried with holy basil and chili, and you often have to pry them open yourself, which takes a little technique. Worth a shot for the brave and gastrointestinally resilient.

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