Shopping, shopping, shopping. My fantasy of market shopping as become an essential part of life here.
There isn’t really a grocery store here eek, which means I have to speak Khmer and manage like everyone else.
The first added bonus of not having a job to go to straight away, was I had time to do a cooking class, which included a trip to the market. This was an awesome introduction to life in this town, and where to buy and what to cook. And I quickly realised Battamabang is not really set up for foreigners (barrang). Even better it’s set up just perfect for Cambodians! It’s a far cry from the supermarkets of Siem Reap or Phnom Penh and the lack of adaptation for barrang is what makes us enjoy and appreciate Battambang and our experience here even more.
The markets are an outstanding mix of sights, sounds and smells; and smack in the middle of it all is a ‘butchers’.
Cambodians do not really do refrigerate their meat. And Lee was adamant that he wasn’t becoming a vegetarian again, so I needed to learn how to navigate this market world, quickly.
There is a central hall with permanent tables set up and ready for the butchers to come in with their wares every morning. Our market guide told us they butcher the meat first thing in the morning and start setting up in this hall about 4.30am. he said any meat unsold that day is taken home and made into the dried and cured meats on offer. Each butcher table only sells one type of meat (chicken, beef, pork or duck). The pork tables also have entire pigs that have been roasted on a spit for sale, pieces that is not the entire pig. I’ve kind of been avoiding the chicken, they are scrawny little things that don’t come filleted (ha ha I’m such a westerner) and I still feel anxious about salmonella. Not sure why I should worry it’s the same chicken I order in restaurants. That is the most interesting thing about the markets, there is no point in being reluctant to shop here, it’s the same meet I eat when they go out (brought from this very market even) the restaurateurs get here earlier than I do and refrigerate it straight away.
Probably the hardest thing about the meat from the markets is that it is so fresh the beef is very tough, as it’s not been aged at all. I would gratefully receive anyone’s recommendations on what I can do to cook it better, so far I’m slicing very thin and stir-frying, but it’s still chewy. My next plan is to try more of a stew – cooking it low and slow – like I would a cheaper cut of meat in NZ (I’m buying beef fillet, maybe that’s where I’m going wrong?).
Then out the back of the market is the fish market. Here the fish is mostly still alive, you pick the one you want and they kill it (and fillet it if you like) right there in front of you. The fillet comes complete with the head, just in case you need it for stock I guess? I get quite a few giggles when I say I don’t want the head.
Then along the sides of the markets are wonderful fresh vegetables, herbs, spices (fresh turmeric for example, nothing dried here) and of course fruit. You do have to pick around a bit as sometimes some other critter has been eating your veg before you get a chance to!
The market also has loads of fresh noodle sellers (rice and egg), a couple of stalls where they make fresh coconut milk for you; and if you don’t want to grind up your own curry paste, no problem they do that fresh for you to! Egg sellers, bread and pastry sellers, oil sellers, grain sellers, it goes on and on. If you know where to find things, you can get all you need right here. I don’t yet know where to find everything, or how to ask for it in Khmer, but I have had a few locals offer to take me round. I can’t wait. I have a million questions about what some unusual looking vegetables or fruit are, and how to cook them. Where to find things I can’t find, and did that avocado seller rip me off, or did I rip her off………………
As you get further out from the market there is the cheaper meat options, frogs, rats, snakes, special meat (dog) etc. These places are not under cover and I guess are cheaper. Our market guide told us Cambodians eat anything with legs except table legs.
The other side of the market is homewares, where you can buy cleaning products and toiletries, and upstairs they sell fabric and this is where all the tailors hang out.
There is a supermarket, that is more of a department store. It has a floor of homewares and a floor of clothing and downstairs they have packet food, toiletries and cleaning products. They also have a small chiller section with bulk meat for sale and a dairy section. This place has air con so a good option if you need to get out of the heat (yes, I’m mentioning that again); and a guy that looks like Michael Jackson who will look after your bike while you shop, or so Lee tells me!
There is also another shop, nicknamed ‘the western shop’ that sells wine, cheese, butter etc. I can spend double in the supermarket or western shop than I do at the market and come back with far less stuff. There is also an Ozzie butcher where we get our bacon and ham from. Lee tells me he makes fantastic pies on Saturdays but I’ve yet to try this.
Another barrang from our local pub (the Bambu) Luc, has just started a bread business. He’s been supplying to local hotels for a while and brought me a loaf of his 7-grain bread to try. It was delicious, so I’m guessing this will soon be part of the weekly shop!
As fantastic as this all sounds, there is one glaring problem, plastic bags. Every time you buy something the seller wants to give it to you in a plastic bag. I try to take as many with me as possible, along with plastic containers for meat and an old milk container for coconut milk, but I always come home with plastic. When Lee is in NZ in a few weeks I will hopefully have brought something reusable for him to bring back, but I’m open to suggestions if people have a recommendation for something good and sustainable. Note: I already brought over several larger bags to cart it all home it, so it’s more the individual bags for each item.
So that’s my shopping stories, once I get my Khmer sorted I’ll be shopping like a pro!