First post of the year. First meal of the day.
We're in Siem Reap for our second food photography and writing workshop with journalist, cookbook author and writing coach Dianne Jacob. While the rest of the group is off with Dave photographing markets and visiting small producers of rice noodles and rice wine I thought I'd take a moment to tell you about what I think might just be Siem Reap's most underrated breakfast.
Chinese culinary influence runs through all of the cuisines of south east Asia, less visibly so perhaps in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia (we tend to forget that stir-fried rice noodles are not local 'inventions' but local permutations of a Chinese dish). So it is with rice porridge -- jook, congee, zhou, however you know it. We eat it in Malaysia (Chinese and Malay versions), they eat it in Indonesia (bubur) and Thailand (khao tom) and Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam too.
This Cambodian rice porridge is very Teochew -style -- not thick and starchy but loose and a bit watery, not a meal in itself but a base for condiments and flavorings. Some might be underwhelmed with this fashion of porridge. I certainly was, at first; I missed the thickness and creaminess of Hong Kong jook. But I've come to love it because -- and this is important in a breakfast dish, I think, because we all wake up with differently sized appetites -- it can be whatever you want it to be: light and austere and all about the rice, easy on the stomach ... or big, bold and brassy.
At this stall near Kandal Village (aka Hup Guan Street, a compact little cache of boutiques and shops, restaurants and cafes and Siem Reap's best western-style coffee, at The Little Red Fox) two graceful older Cambodian ladies serve rice porridge for breakfast only, starting at around 6 or 6:30am. By the time we arrived at 8:30 they'd turned off the fire beneath the porridge. That was fine with us, because right about now Siem Reap's daytime temperature hovers around 90 to 95F.
We added sieng chha or fermented soy beans --- what we know in Malaysia as taucu, but tastier here, the individual beans distinct and holding their shape, not al dente but not a sticky mush, and shot through with crunchy strips of zesty ginger. And chhai pov, translucent crispy slices of pickled daikon, plus salted eggs preserved just long enough to firm up the white but not so long as to obliterate the unctuousness of the yolk. The rice, though plain, has flavor too, a subtle almost-grassiness -- a soft and low bass to sharp, high notes of crunch and salt.
Though we love the pork rice and pickles served at Siem Reap's Psar Chas (Central Market), this underrated porridge looks set to become our go-to breakfast here in Siem Reap.
Two Ladies' breakfast porridge, early morning to about 9am. From Hup Guan Street, follow the narrow alley right next to the shop called Trunkh; their stall is at the end. Thanks to Doug for the tip.
For the visually inclined, Dave Instagrams breakfast and everything else in Siem Reap and beyond at @DaveHagerman. And I continue to post his photos -- and interesting links, updates etc -- on the EatingAsia Facebook page.