[Nate sez]: Cambodia brings to mind the massive and incomparable Angkor Wat. The exotic tropics of SE Asia. Paris of the East they called Phnom Penh. The truth is, this place is a nightmare (and ironically) since we didn't get our Vietnam visas in Cambodia, we have a fixed entrance and exit date instead of flexible date visas. Whoops! Now we're stuck on this god-forsaken shithole with nothing to do, and you better believe the food/everything here is bordering on inedible, toxic, and unsanitary at best.
Highlights so far: we found a bottle of '92 Bordeaux at a store in Siem Reap. Which anagramatizes to 'Rape me, si?' - which is only completely appropriate given the level of over-the-top hawkers and dramatically overinflated prices. Funny thing about that bottle of wine - it looked suspicious, like why does this label look wrong? Like why is it only $5.50? Why does this seem to be lacking some important information that any other bottle of French wine would have? I was too curious to see whether it had simply been the worst year for Bordeaux as I sensed (turns out it was really bad according to Wine Spectator) or if there even more foul play fermenting...
Unfortunately my deepest, most hideous and unrighteous fears came to fruition - as we opened the bottle, the cork looked funny and wet, lacking a name that matches the chateau label. I poured the wine into my cup (fine, I'll admit it, I'm doing sensory analysis with Orikaso plasticware), the aroma was waaaaaayy too sharp to be 15 years old. Heavy duty fake vanilla , lots of alcohol, nail polish remover, and an ambiguous assortment of ripe red fruit that can only be described as Red Kool Aid. The taste was truly hilarious, and the finish was that of a tinge of malty flavor. Yes, malty flavor - as in malted milk balls and sweet, dark German beer.
Apparently, I'm not the first to notice the presence of fake wine in Cambodia - read a funny article about it here.
This could only mean one, terrifying and horrible thing. The Cambodians have a flare for knocking off anything. This stems from the fact that Burger King won't do business here, the 7-11 won't do business here, no chain/franchise/international-institutions-of-convenience-and-economic-dominance will do business here yet, so they tend to poorly copy everything and pass it off as the original.
Guess what they did? They made up a fictitious chateau called "Chateau la Prevote" and filled it with, that's right, UNIDENTIFIED ASIAN RED WINE. I'm almost completely sure of it. While I was in Japan doing way too much alcohol research, I started exploring the wide, unrecognized world of cheap Asian grape wines. They all have this mysterious malty note to them - and la Prevote was super Asian-wine malty. Don't worry Australia, their best wine is worse than your cheap, sickening Yellowtail. Whether I would describe it as "rice malty" or "barley malty" is yet undecided, but malty indeed.
[Ben sez]: Actually the maltiness was reminiscent of Taro root if you ask me.. which you didn't, so I'll let Nate get back to lamenting our time in Cambodia.
We've now been stuck in Phnom Penh for 10 days, trying desperately not to get so depressed by the squalor, the begging children, and the absolutely oppressive heat. After eating so many desperately mediocre meals in Siem Reap for too much money, we had little hope for Cambodia's capital. We found a couple tolerable joints, not too expensive, roughly Vietnamese, kind of Chinese, a little homestyle Khmer now and then.
The market food is sketchy. I mean if the smell of rotting meat and fish baking on asphalt (indoors no less) isn't enough to turn your stomach over a few times, the utter absence of any food safety practice should be sufficient to keep you away. I have an iron stomach, I'll eat anything that won't injure me, but this was too far.
With heroic persistence, we found some good things to eat. A night market near by our guesthouse puts out what was immediately identifiable as the best meal in Cambodia as soon as we tried it. How do I know? Because everyone and their mom eats here every night. And it costs 75 cents - Fried Rice and Beef with Soy Sauce and Local Greens at Orussey Night Market is the only way to fly. We also found an awesome sandwich of grilled beef brochettes with with shallot/daikon/cabbage pickles on grilled, margarined baguette. On this one evening where the food gods smiled upon us, we found a dessert stand serving assorted syrup soaked thin cookies and donuts with sticky rice, coconut pudding and coconut creme covered with shaved ice and sweetened condensed milk. It was safe to consume. It was 50 cents. It was what good SE Asian street food should be.
This little market was a rare gem in the war torn, lawless country that attracts mostly sex-tourists and druggies. We should have heeded Anthony Bourdain's warnings about the absence of great, much less good food in Cambodia, but I was thoroughly convinced that any country next to Thailand had to be paved with delicacies.
Seeing as it took 14 days of digging to find anything much better to eat than convenience store peanuts and Pocky, this was a tough blow to the Ben et Nate contingency, but we must move on to the promised land of noodles.
[Ben sez]: Vietnam, watch out, we're hungry, malnourised (peanuts and Pocky is not a balanced diet), and started this trip with the mission to find the best bowl of noodles. You better believe I'm going to be eating Pho (Vietnamese Soup) three, four, maybe eight times a day.
We're taking a boat down the Mekong tomorrow to get to 'Nam and there are preliminary flood warnings for low-lying areas based on the massive uncontrollable salivating that I will be doing the entire trip to Ho Chi Minh City.