Saturday, December 6, 2008

Re: Holiday Fowl and Khmer Kitchen


Dear E.A.,

We had a good Thanksgiving. Shannon and I got all jazzed to have four or five Khmer friends over for as good of an approximation of the holiday as we could fashion. We ended up inviting 9 people in addition to ourselves and our roommate. Then we realized that we only had 2 stove tops and a toaster oven that is 30 centimeters wide. Well, we assembled a brigade of borrowed toaster ovens and went to town, doing a good job of sneaky beans (string bean-mushroom thingamabob), mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, fruit salad, etc. In lieu of turkey I went out and found what I thought were chickens. Turns out they were ducks. So I took those 2 ducks I'd purchased and went and found actual chickens. They're all over the place here in the afternoons and evenings, killed fresh that morning and cooked until they're the color of dirty tallow. In a communication breakdown, I asked the sellers to simply cut off the heads, but they instead went Thor-style with a meat cleaver and tossed everything into a bag. "Oh, there's the right side of the head...oh, there's the left...oh, there's a piece of eyeball." When re-heating the birds in one of the toaster ovens, I made sure to pull the bills from out of the assemblage of parts. The Khmers were all about this big platter of bird I’d assembled; the Westerners took the occasional wing and went to town on the sides. A lot of it ended up going to Sheba, the dog of a French friend.

Also, I won a gift certificate from this business called Cooks in Tuk Tuks, which takes you to the local open-air market, explains all the exotic foods and herbs (referred to as "fertilizers," for some reason), and then takes you back to a nice restaurant where they make your food in front of you and let you participate. (I feel it’s worth noting that I won the gift certificate at a culinary pub quiz when I responded to the question What is another name for Sago? with the answer Sago the Wise. Apparently sago is sea tapioca but it sound Middle Earthian to me.) Anyway, back from the market the cook made us all this good grub and, after a desert of sweet potato with sago (!) in coconut cream, he pulls me up to help make prohoc. What is prohoc, you ask? The cook holds up individual bowls of grey fermented fish goop, garlic, salt, chilies, sugar, some other ingredients that escape me now.

Then, the last bowl: "Rat ans," he says.

"Red anne?" we ask.

"No, rat ans."


"Rat ans." He gives the bowl to Shannon, we both look down.

"Oh, red ANTS!"

Tiny in their bowl they looked like three-dimensional stick men broken and heaped upon each other at the bottom of a ceramic mass grave.

"Adult rat ans," he says, pointing at the stick men. Then he points at the little white specks tossed in to the mound. "Rat ans children."

"Red ants’ children?” we ask.

"Yes," he says, pointing at the larvae. “I catch the ans in the garden and put them in the freezer.”

I follow the dude’s directions and make and eat the prohoc. The ants have a bit of tang to them. “Why do you add the ants?” we ask.

“You can use lime if you have no ans.”

“Good to know.”

“The ans are sour, so prohoc is not too sweet.”

Awesome. My palette is coming along nicely.

- R.J.

1 comment:

buymoretime said...

Oh no! they have you talking in centimeters!!! I've got something that's 30cm too and it's not a toaster oven...

It's my broken meter stick that I got on sale.

But I will try the red ant spice next time I head down to the panhandle.