Battambang a Food Lovers Paradise

Who would have thought Battambang would be a food lovers paradise our journey today made us realise just this.

Up early this morning to finish yesterday’s blog before Chantha arrived at about 8ish. He took us to the local bus terminal where we purchased two tickets to Phnom Penh for USD$8.75 each. It was funny when I handed over a $100 note the guy opened a big desk drawer that was absolutely chockas full of Riel and started rummaging around for US Dollars before eventually finding a wallet which had about five twenty dollar notes in it. He passed me the tickets and the change and we headed off on our tour.

We headed through the back blocks until we saw a place with rice paper rounds drying on bamboo screens in the sun. We stopped and went inside to where a woman was squatting over two boiling pots covered with muslin cloth. She dipped a bowl into the milky rice solution, poured a thin circle on the cloth, (about 6 inches wide) before spreading it thinly and evenly. She covered it with a lid before reaching across to the other boiling pot, where she removed the lid and using a spatula lifted the steamed rice paper round and gently placed it over a round peace of bamboo on a rotatable x frame. Her assistant swivelled the xframe, then removed the bamboo and gently slid the rice paper round off the bamboo and onto a bamboo screen which held about 40 rice paper rounds. It was a continuous operation for as the bamboo screen were filled they were carried out to the front lawn and placed up right to dry.

At the back of the home factory there was another lady rolling two types of spring rolls. Fresh spring rolls, made from lettuce,pork, noodles, soya bean sprouts, mint, cucumber, coconut and fried spring rolls made from carrots, noodles bean sprouts, coconut. She made enough for Michele and I and we dined on a breakfast of fresh spring rolls with their local dipping sauce and they were really delicious and quite unique with the coconut inside them. They also gave us a bowl of fresh fruit which contained fresh banana, banana chips and soursop(a delicious milky white fruit from the custard apple family with a tangy taste similar to Feijoa). All up our delicious breakfast cost us USD $3 and we considered it a bargain, for them it was probably all they would make for the day.

Back on the road we passed locals thinly slicing bananas and placing them on bamboo trays to dry in the sun to produce bamboo chips. There were others placing spiced meat on trays to dry in the sun.

Our next stop was a local weaver, where four looms were set up but only two in action. It takes about 4 hours to make a single silk scarf which sell locally for about USD $1 or 4,000 Riel so tough going for little reward. One girl was so tired and was yawning her head off, and the day was just starting. It was going to be a long day for her. We headed through the local villages with lots of crops, bananas and papaya growing.

The other day we read a saying that a pile of stones is just a pile of stones until someone contemplates it. Well the temple at Ek Phnom is a just pile of stones waiting to fall down and that’s what we were contemplating as we climbed over the stones of the former temple that are now strewn about. A disheveled lady guided us over the stones to the remains of a temple which a loud cough would probably be enough to cause the whole lot to come crashing down. We had a quick look and stayed only briefly because something about this place had a sinister feel. There was Asian pop music blaring out of speakers loud enough to wake the dead and about twenty shifty looking people just watching our every move, sort of like Asian “Village of The Dammed”… Urgh Creepy

We made our way to the new Buddhist temple which was closed and as we were looking about were approached by a Tourist Policeman who wanted our tickets. We searched and couldn’t find them but found yesterday’s tickets and he kept asking to come over to his office so he could take our names. We checked all our pockets and the bag until we found the tickets, he confiscated them but he still wanted our names. We walked off and looked around a bit before heading across to the giant Buddha statue and telling Chantha as we passed to get ready to leave. Another Tourist policeman was relaxing in the back seat of our Tuk Tuk but got out as we climbed on and beat a hasty retreat without any more questions.

More bumpy roads filled with potholes led past a house with a stereo going, the volume on about one million, with an Asian version of Cher belting out a Cambodian song which sounded strangely pretty good. Just up the road we stopped at a local Rice Wine factory (They probably had a 20 litre drum at the place pumping out Cher) Here they make two types of rocket fuel. One a sourmash and the other not a strong flavour just pure head shaking, knee trembling rocket fuel. Everything was in big cooking pots and plastic drums, maybe because this stuff dissolves metal. We had a sniff of the finished unbottled product, a clear liquid in a grubby 20 litre plastic drum and it could’ve powered a Top Fuel Dragster it was that potent. Unfortunately there was none ready to drink so we couldn’t sample any. Awwww….lol

Another dusty track led through some beautiful rice paddies all brilliant emerald green. This area north of the river produces three crops a year because it is quite rich and fertile due to being on a flood plane so the river naturally fertilises it. It is also called floating rice paddies because when the area floods the paddies float. We passed an area where locals were harvesting rice using a small hand scythe and stopped under a large tree with long green cylindrical fruit called a Kapok tree. When the fruit is old it is harvested for the white fluffy inside to make stuffing for pillows. When the fruit is young kids pick the fruit and eat it with chilli and tastes a bit like cucumber.

Down by the river we stopped at a fish factory where river boats dock with their holds full of small fish (only about half the size of a ladies hand). The fish are scooped out into a basket which two blokes carry up the steep bank to waiting carts or on to the factory. Here the fish are covered in salt and left in huge piles to be scaled, gutted and spines removed (to be used as animal food). Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs should see this old lady working with a cleaver, scaling gutting and boning each fish in under 5 seconds. Does it stink, yep you betcha. Some fish are stacked flat and smoked and once finished look like sticks. Each pack contains is about 12 inches high and contains a couple of hundred fish costing only $3.

We drove back in to the villages and were met with a huge plume of smoke coming from beneath a low roof. Crouched beneath the roof were three ladies trying to doge the smoke, cooking Bamboo Sticky Rice and Black bean. A mixture of sticky rice and black bean is spooned into an short piece of bamboo (about 10 inches long)and the end sealed with a price of banana leaf. It’s then leaned over the fire at an angle against a bar which is about 6 inches off the ground and runs the length of the lean to. The ladies turn the bamboo to stop the mixture from burning and once it’s ready peel the outside layer of bamboo off the cooked rice leaving a thin layer of bamboo to protect it. The peeled bamboo is reused to stoke the fire. Unfortunately all the cooked Bamboo sticky Rice was presold so we missed out. It was the same story at the next stall. We may have to find some at the bus station tomorrow morning before we leave.

The local Blacksmith was busily hammering away as we arrived. Two guys with sledgehammers were belting a cherry red hot piece of steel creating a meat cleaver and as the metal cooled and became less malleable the smith put it back in the fire. The locals all use their local smith and looking at the finished products of hoes, pitchforks, rice scythes,shovels, cleavers it was quite plain to see why because the products are really high quality, inexpensive and durable.

Ding ding ding As a smiling Icecream man peddled passed with a smile like a split watermelon. The locals all love their Icecream and for good reason, coconut icecream topped with condensed milk, yum who wouldn’t.

We arrived back in the centre of Battambang just after 11 am, said our goodbyes to Chantha. if anyone reading is heading to Battambang here are his details, chanthapov@hotmail.com. I am sure he could show you around too 🙂

We then wandered around looking for a restaurant we had read about called Jaan Bai, it is located on the corner of 1 1/2 and 2 Street but the signposts were non existent as was our map which showed the streets but no names… Argh. Eventually we found the big central markets where locals were selling all sorts of produce. It was pretty hot and as we couldn’t find the streets we stopped outside the ANZ Bank and started walking back towards where we’d been dropped off. We spotted a two on a building and looked across the street to find Jaan Bai.

Jaan Bai would not be out of place in Northbridge with its funky murals overlooking its alfresco area, it’s white interior and full front glass walls. The place is run very well by a nice bloke from Melbourne called Tom. The place has been open four months and is a social enterprise training and professionally developing disadvantaged youth in the Hospitality trade. We ordered a coffee each and Michele a corn fritter and I Pad Thai. The meals arrived and were well presented and we couldn’t wait to start eating, because they looked so good. Overall the service was excellent,with attentive staff refilling our glasses and asking how our meals were, and would we like anything else. In our humble opinion the wait staff could easily get a job work in any Australian restaurant. We lingered at Jaan Bai and enjoyed another coffee, some sticky rice and mango and a coconut Icecream slider (coconut Icecream in a sweet bun, a little like a cream bun but it’s Icecream…. Sweet) Soon it was time to pay the bill USD $17 and we had a chat with Tom, and he told us about the restaurant,its mission and the enjoyment he gets from the work he is doing. We told him a little of ourselves and left thanking him for a great experience and honestly I wish we’d more time in Battambang to eat at Jaan Bai. It may sound a bit like a shameless plug but I assure you that this was the best restaurant we’ve eaten at this trip so far.

We found a map with all the streets numbered there’s three all up 1, 2 and 3 and of course there’s streets in between (as you do) named 1.5 and 2.5 ….lol.

We decided to walk our lunch off walking along the river past the old French colonial shophouses, and the night food stalls, stopping for a short while beside the river to watch the world go by and a bloke with a boat load of goats.lol

We were reminded how small the world is when we said “Gidday” to a bloke and his wife across the street standing beside their car checking a lonely planet guide.He said “Gidday”back so we wondered across and had a chat. Ian and Tanya were from Mandurah just 30 kms from us, and where Michele used to work. Ian and Tanya had just driven 3 1/2 hours from Siem Reap over the potholed roads that he assured us got a whole lot worse the further they got out of town. He also told us of other trips where the roads and potholes had destroyed steering motors and rear axles and we were glad we didn’t own a car in this place. He asked about the ferry from Siem Reap and we told them about travelling up the river. We chatted for a while about accommodation wished them good luck and continued on our way stopping to buy a pineapple for 1,000 Riel or 25 cents (how cheap) before stopping again at the River Restaurant situated oddly enough overlooking the river.

We enjoyed a coffee and a mixed fruit shake for just USD $3, whilst watching two blokes catching fish using a cast net. It was interesting watching them casting the net and diving in to make sure nothing escaped. We took a few photos , left the restaurant and continued taking photos of the grand french colonial Post Office building and the statue across the road. Well tried to….. Until The pineapple ladies kids photo bombed our shots of the statue in the park and we cracked up laughing because they knew exactly what they were doing because they were holding poses. We waved goodbye to them, they returned to the pineapple stall and we checked out the Governors Mansion where a small army of gardeners were busy sweeping leaves off the grass underneath the trees. These trees must be the busiest trees in the whole of Cambodia because they’d dropped a ton of leaves and the trees were still full of leaves.The Governor ‘s Mansion was of course a grand old stately place, absolutely massive with huge Cambodian Lions out the front and a couple of big old cannons to top it off. The gates faced a short avenue with grand style but lead to a footbridge maybe to stop tanks from thundering across the river, through the front gate and into his front yard.

We wandered home and put our feet up to chill out in the aircon for the afternoon but its pretty hard to chill with some fool dragging furniture back and forth somewhere downstairs, all frikken afternoon.

Went to the Bamboo Train Cafe and Bar once again for tea and really enjoyed a nice spicy Green Chicken Curry washed down with a Mango Lassi while Michele had a sandwich with just about everything on it. I was surprised when it came out a sandwich filled with fresh ham, egg, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, red, green and yellow capsicum, a nice amount of mayonnaise so as to not overpower the other ingredients with a side of thinly cut home made chips. I was tempted to swap plates but a green chicken curry made “pep pep” is something I just can’t give away.lol
Walking home tonight we were glad to have packed our torch and head torch for the trip, well actually to avoid the trip.lol

Tomorrow we’re legging it to Phnom Penh by bus so up early. Safe travels everyone.

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