Amansara Cooking School in Siem Reap, Cambodia

14 May 2015 / By travel4foodfun@gmail.com
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After nearly being eradicated during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, there is a noticeable resurrection of traditional dishes. Khmer cuisine takes cues from neighboring Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. However, the food is notable milder. Also, fish is the most critical protein source, due to a large number of freshwater rivers and streams.

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During our recent trip to Cambodia, Tom was excited for me to participate in a cooking class. Although Tom has taught me a lot about flavor balance, he wanted me to learn from a professional. Also, we weren’t very familiar with Khmer cuisine. It would be an opportunity for us to learn about new ingredients and food preparations!

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Amansara has an exceptional cooking class program. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in this fantastic experience. The day began with a morning food market tour with Amansara’s Executive Chef, Molly Rygg, as our guide. We’ve been to Asian markets before, but this was an extraordinary sensory excursion. The energy was palpable. Chef Rygg expertly showed us the bountiful displays of fruits and vegetables. Sharing the market path with other shoppers, both on foot and on a moped (yes, moped!), we nudged our way through the pathways.

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In the market, we also saw all of the different proteins. Fish being king, of course. There were loads of stands selling different prepared foods and delicious snacks. We also saw a vendor grinding out fresh coconut from the shell with a dangerous looking, high powered machine. This produces the freshest coconut milk in the market. Chef Rygg purchases the coconut milk from this particular vendor to use in meal preparation at Amansara (after pasteurization, of course!)

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Following the quick visit to the market, Tom and I were escorted to Amansara’s Khmer Village House for the cooking class. This location is set approximately 25 minutes away from the main property. Typically, the property is used for guests to breakfast after an early morning tour of the temples. However, it also hosts lunchtime cooking classes for visitors interested in learning more about Khmer cooking. The lovely wooden house is set on stilts, in typical Cambodian fashion. Set in the countryside, overlooking the beautiful Srah Srang reservoir, we could not imagine a more lovely location for the class.

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Amansara’s cooking team thoughtfully planned out a menu that is representative of Khmer cuisine. They selected dishes that are easily prepared at home and that use local, in-season ingredients. Our instructors for the day were Chef Chantra and Thoeun. During the class, we learned that Chef Chantra has worked at Amansara for ten years, working his way up from dishwasher to Chef! Thoeun has been at Amansara for four years as a server. They were so lovely, helpful, and fun! They made the cooking class exceptional!

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During the class, we made five courses, including one dessert. Our first dish was Nhoam Chrouch Thlong (pomelo and shrimp salad). I loved this dish as it is tasty and effortless to prepare. The chili dressing is deliciously sweet, sour, and spicy. I would use it as a regular salad dressing or even dip spring rolls.

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For the second course, we made Naim (Fresh spring rolls with chicken). I’ve made spring rolls in the past, and have always been frustrated with the rolling of the wrapper. It still tears. Chef Chantra was very patient with me and pointed out some of the things that were causing the tears. I tend to let the wrappers soak too long, and I also add too much stuffing. After I corrected these things, the rolls were more comfortable to assemble. However, they still look ugly compared to the chef. I need to practice more!

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The third dish we prepared was Sachrut Aing with Chrouk Chomroh (Pork and lemongrass skewers with a side of pickled vegetables). This dish is straightforward but looks like it can take hours to prepare. The challenge I had with this course was getting the meat to stick to the lemongrass skewer. Otherwise, it was effortless and the end presentation is beautiful.

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The final main course was the “national” dish, Amok Trei (fish and coconut curry). We learned how to make our curry paste, rather than using a canned variety. It takes some time to pound by mortar and pestle, but the result is well worth the effort. I like food a little more spicy, so I added a couple of extra chilies to the paste. Although we make curries at home with canned paste, I noticed how much more vibrant the flavors are with fresh curry paste. Yum, yum, yum!

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For dessert, we prepared Nom Angot Skor (sticky rice and palm sugar dumpling). During this trip, I became a huge fan of palm sugar. It is so flavorful and sweet. This dessert, once again, was effortless to prepare. And the cooking is fool-proof. When the dumplings float to the top of the simmering water, they’re done!

After all of the dishes were prepared, Tom and I sat down to enjoy the food we made. We enjoyed a lovely lunch overlooking the stunning garden and Srah Srang reservoir in the background. The food was delicious if I say so myself! Our meal was perfectly complemented with a glass of Chardonnay. I had a wonderful time preparing these Khmer dishes and am excited to try out the recipes at home!

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During our culinary experience, we learned about the different influences on Khmer cuisine. And about how Cambodians are excited to reclaim their food and traditions. Tom even picked up a few pointers in food preparation, such as searing the pork lemongrass skewers before grilling, to ensure that they remain intact.

From the food market tour to the afternoon of learning and cooking and dining at Amansara’s Khmer Village House, we cannot think of a more lovely culinary experience. We highly recommend this experience for anyone who is interested in food and culture exploration!

Virtuoso Amenities for your stay  

For 2019:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Continental breakfast daily, for up to two in-room guests
  • A 60-minute massage per room per stay
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

We are your Southeast Asia Specialist!  Contact Us for questions or additional information.

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