Whenever I take a trip to another country, I always make a point of booking myself and TFB in for a cooking class. As well as tasting the national dishes, I also love to see the ingredients and cooking techniques that are used in making them. I always feel that I learn so much from these experience, as well as getting a chance to add a couple of new dishes to my repertoire. In Siem Reap we were lucky enough to be invited to take part in the cooking class operated by the stunningly beautiful Phum Baitang resort.
The exquisite resort is located just outside of the main town and requires a tuk tuk to take you out there. When we arrived at 9am sharp I was blown away by the incredible beautiful and serenity of the place, it was like landing on another planet. This is clearly where the A-listers are coming to stay. The whole resort is set in the most tranquil fields where the only sounds you can hear are the animals. It was perfection, and if I come back to Cambodia for a honeymoon this is so where I am going to be staying.
After meeting our wonderful chefs, we jumped into a tuk tuk and set off back to town to visit the wet market to buy all of our lovely ingredients. We chatted on the way about the menu and the dishes we would be making, taking into account any dietary restrictions we may have, luckily we have none so were totally in their hands.
The wet market itself is absolutely worth a visit. Located in the centre of town the whole place was abuzz with activity. everywhere I looked there were different sights to behold. I was glad we had the chefs to help us navigate the place, they also got us great prices on anything we wanted to buy. When inquiring about passion fruits I asked how much they were, “$1” was the reply, “For 1?” I asked, “No for 1kg”. Anything that grows locally is exceptionally cheap here. Only the imported Korean and Japanese mushrooms were pricier than what you’d find in Seoul, which made me smile.
After we got back we enjoyed a refreshing home made juice by the pool and a little rest before making our way over to the outdoor kitchen to start preparing our meal. The kitchen itself was in the most divine spot, as mentioned the only thing we could hear were the sounds of the birds chirping and the family of buffalo munching away on the grass. Quite frankly it’s the most relaxing place I have ever been to.
We were challenged to make a rather epic menu of six different dishes which were Chicken Polmelo Salad, Fish & Pineapple Curry, Grilled Beef & Lemongrass Skewers, Pickled Crunchy Salad, Stir Fried Kailan Leaf with Garlic, Spicy Beef with Tomatoes, and Steamed Pumpkin & Rice Cakes for dessert. As you can see there was plenty to do and we soon got to work preparing the ingredients. The chef introduced us to a huge variety of new dishes that we had never even heard of before let alone tried. We spent the morning chopping vegetables and eating fruit and grinding our dressings and pastes the old fashioned way in the gigantic pestle and mortar.
Once all of our fruits and veggies were prepped it was time to fire up the grill and start cooking everything. Most of the hot dishes were cooked on a gas range making them super easy to replicate at home. Though the beef skewers were cooked on a special grill type contraption, but the chef assured me we could cook them on the BBQ too. For dessert we wrapped our sweet pumpkin and rice mixture in banana leaves and cooked them in the steamer. Everything was much simpler than I thought it would be, and I’m sure that we can make these dishes ourselves.
Once all the hard work was over, we finally got to eat everything. The most beautiful table was laid out for us in a little pagoda near to where the outdoor kitchen is. And we were allowed to try everything in absolute peace and quite except for the odd grunt from Billy the Buffalo.
Unsurprisingly everything was fantastic, but of all the dishes we made my favourite probably had to be the the beef skewers and pickled vegetables. Though I also immensely enjoyed the beef with tomato, and the chicken & pomelo salad, and the curry, in fact it was all truly delicious. I think this has to be one of the best cooking classes i have ever done. It is not the cheapest but considering the fantastic location of the resort and how much food you get to eat and make it is an absolute bargain and a once in a lifetime experience. I’m so thrilled we took the time to learn more about Khmer food.
Phum Baitang is located at Phum Svaydangkum, Sangkat Svaydangkum, Siem Reap, Cambodia. The cooking class cost $45 per person and includes a travel to and from the local market, and soft drinks with lunch. For more information about Phum Baitang resort, or the cooking class, please visit their website.