By Craig Bowman
“What is this? What is that used for? Do people eat that? Why is it that color?”
These are the many questions asked at the market stop during the Insider’s Phnom Penh adventure. If you are like me, from a western country, you’d probably asked those very same questions. Maybe some of them you asked yourself as you are trying to pretend you know some knowledge of this foreign city. After all, we all are human and eat generally the same types of food, right? Okay so maybe an American might eat more pork ribs than a person from France, but we know pretty much what each other is eating. For me, that was not the case in this very local market.
Here you won’t find any T-shirts saying, “Ängkor What?” on them. No knock off North Face backpacks. No souvenir type stuff. Not that there is anything wrong with that, this just wasn’t the place for it. This market was filled with local items and local people selling and buying. The aisles were narrow as space was maximized for the stalls to sell. Although it was laid out pretty much in a grid with 90 angles, I still felt like I was in a maze and didn’t know which way we came in from. I just had to keep an eye on our guide in his bright orange Vespa Adventures shirt to keep from getting lost.
Our guide pointed out and explained many different things as we walked. I did expect to see and learn about different things, but I was a bit overloaded at all the different things. Fish is sold in so many ways. And shrimp! Fresh shrimp, dried shrimp, shrimp paste, baby shrimp. Now I am sounding like Bubba from the movie Forest Gump. Then we moved on to the eggs. Not just big or small, but white with black dots, solid pink or black. Yup, pink and black eggs. These vendors had tons of this stuff. This is a great place to buy in bulk as we had to often clear the way for dollies filled with big purchases by locals, I assume for their businesses.
My memory cannot recall all the unique food items I saw. We spent over 30 minutes looking at all these things and understanding what a lot of them are. With each step I took, my eyes kept getting pulled towards other intriguing items after item including gifts for weddings.
Our guide led us outside the market and across the road to a line of shops supplied with medicine, traditional medicine that is. These are the natural plants that are believed to cure and aid in health care, such as aloe vera plants to heal the skin. These items and uses were most utilized during Cambodia’s civil war in the 70’s. During this time, most of the population did not have access to doctors or modern medicine. They learned the power of the natural resources around them. People, mostly the older generation, still utilize them today.
After this stop was completed, most of my “what is that?” questions were answered and more. We even tried a few items including the sticky rice cake snack. Very good! Next time I’ll bring my shopping list and dolly.