So, loooots of catching up to do. I am feeling better. The cough is hanging around but I can breathe and really the cough only starts to act up when I’m outside in the dust and gas fumes.
We went to a restaurant last week called Top Banana down on Riverside which is where the nightlife is in Phnom Penh. There’re lots of bars, lots of shopping, and very touristy. Well-manicured medians and lots of statues. Top Banana is a really nice restaurant and it’s an actual restaurant. For the most part, for the last week and a half I’ve been eating at little places tucked in among the shops and bustle of Phnom Penh collectively referred to as “Street Food”. So walking up to the second floor balcony with fifteen other people and finding a long table set up for us was a nice change of pace. I also seemed to have forgotten how restaurants work. It was so weird having a menu and someone asking what I wanted to drink. Street food, you pay a dollar and point at whatever they have on display that looks good and when you sit there’s tea on the table and they bring you a glass of ice. Really good and really cheap and pretty fast.
Top Banana had some weird things on the menu. First up, beef with ant eggs. Second, fried squid or grilled squid. Then quail and goat. Frog legs and liver. What kind of liver we never found out. The beef and ant eggs was really good. So the dish comes out in a bowl and there are a few strips of beef sitting on a bed of mixed greens and tossed with the greens are ants and their eggs. They’re so tiny you can’t taste them. The greens have some kind of sweet dressing and the beef is really savory and tender. It’s really good, I would get it as an entrée if we go back.
I got roasted goat. It was okay. I think I would like it better if it was prepared differently. There were parts of it that were really tender and good and then other parts that tasted more like gristle, rubbery and chewy. I tried a piece of fried squid and didn’t like it. It’s really rubbery and I couldn’t get past the texture. I like crunchy things and the squid is slippery and chewy so I didn’t bother trying the grilled version. Other people really enjoyed it so I’m guessing it was a good dish, just not to my liking.
I didn’t eat the frog legs and that turned out to be a good choice. Everyone said they were really bony and tough. They quail was super good, though. It was a tiny bird but it wasn’t dry and whatever they marinated it in made it really flavorful. It was really tender, like, fall apart in your mouth tender. I highly recommend it. The liver we collectively decided was nasty. It looks like sundried dog shit and it doesn’t taste much better.
But, fifteen people went out to dinner and when the final bill came everything evened out to be $6.50 a person. Try doing that in the US without going to McDonald’s.
It was a great dinner and the first time a large group of us went out and we had a lot of fun passing dishes around and getting to know each other. There was a small cat that I’m guessing lives at the restaurant that kept running back and forth under the table. She ate really well that night because we kept passing her little morsels. She was adorable and had only a little half tail. The half tails on cats I and a couple others had noticed.
So on the Tuk Tuk ride back to the hotel we were trying to figure out why the hell none of the cats we saw had full tails. They have little tiny tails like Manx cats or quarter tails or half tails. One of the guys, Jay, he’s been in Cambodia for about six months and knows a lot about the history of the region told us it’s a genetic bottle neck.
While the Khmer Rouge were in power in Cambodia people were starving and they ate anything they could catch which included stray cats and dogs. The cats that were hardest to catch? Really tiny cats without tails. All the cats I’ve seen here have been about the size of kittens and their kittens can fit in your hand. And they’re fast as hell.
The dogs are the same way. The stray dogs all look like small shepherd mixes. Shepherds are fast, strong, and really smart. So these are the dogs that could avoid traps, that were fast enough to get away, or intimidating enough to keep starving humans from getting too close.
Cambodia is slowly rebuilding itself after twenty years of pain and violence but it will be a long, long time before even the smallest parts of the city shed the scars.