Day 2, 12.26.2013
Our first Khmer lunch of the trip was at Amok Restaurant on Street 9, near the Old French Quarter. The entrance is down a glass terraced corridor, with old neon sign for “Air Cond ->”. Amok is a delightfully colored, lilac building with blue chairs and cute, lacy, red tablecloths. The restaurant’s namesake arises from a Cambodian delicacy, amok fish. A curried stew made from coconut cream and milk, and a base of traditional Khmer spice-herb paste–lemongrass, kaffir limes and leaves, galangal (similar to ginger), garlic, nhor leaves (like kale), turmeric, shallots, and dried red chilies. The fish in amok fish are sourced locally in Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Snakehead, carp, and catfish are most frequently used in the stew–I believe we were served carp that day.
We were shown up to the second floor and seated. Everyone was provided the option of having one free glass of fresh, cold coconut water, which I gladly gulped down in the heat of noon. Too bad about no free refills!
My mom and I were served individual party platters of different curries, grilled vegetable kebabs, green papaya salad, and spring rolls. Each dish was served in a bowl made of banana leaves, and the platter itself was also lined with banana leaves.
Every dish was so delicious! The red curry in the center was paired with perfectly al dente jasmine rice. Creamy and rich but not heavy, laden with bell peppers, onions, scallions, tomatoes and other veggies.
Vegetable kebabs and a banana leaf boat of stir-fried veggies had just the perfect amount of char. The vegetables came with a small bowl of what I would guess is the Cambodian equivalent of BBQ sauce. Spring roll wrappers were thin and expertly fried to a golden crisp, bubbling with fresh cabbage and vermicelli on the inside. And of course, you can’t have spring rolls without sweet chili sauce!
The green papaya salad was bright and fresh–tangy with from several squeezes of kaffir lime and the hint of anise/pepper from fresh leaves of basil. Also in a banana leaf bowl was a green curry paste with blended veggies and flaming red chilis. They also drizzled a spoonful of coconut cream on top. Mmm.
Dessert was 芭蕉 [ba jiao], the short, fat bananas you typically see in Southeast Asia. They’re apparently called “Lady Finger Banana” (just looked this up).The bananas are grilled in banana leaves and served in a sweet coconut sauce. Our dish was served with warm, tender, and deliciously caramelized bananas that were delicately arranged, alternating with fresh, pink banana flower petals, around a dipping bowl of palm sugar syrup in the center. Tasty! I think the dish is called chet ang nung tirk doung, but please correct me if I’m wrong. 🙂