The second part of my trip with the Tourism Authority of Thailand was visiting Cambodia and it was a bowl of Khmer Chicken Soup that immediately made we want to stay much longer than what our schedule allowed. We were hosted for dinner by the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia and the soup was one of the dishes of the evening. It had so much flavour, as rich and comforting as good chicken soup can be and I asked if the chef would be willing to share his recipe. At the end of the dinner, he came out to share the recipe. We had a bit of a language barrier and the quantities he gave me must have been for the 30 odd people he served that evening so I have had to guestimate a bit here and there. But I think the result is quite close to what I remember it to be.
As mentioned in my last post where I shared the recipe for Massaman Curry, I was invited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to explore the Southern Tourism Corridor that comprises Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam from a gastronomy perspective. The Southern Tourism Corridor is a tourism cooperation corridor among Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam established in 2007, with Myanmar invited to join in August 2018. Some of the provinces included in Thailand are Rayong and Chanthaburi, Kampot in Cambodia and Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam. Southeast Asia is one of the most popular holiday destinations for South Africans with its vibrant culture, iconic street food, world-renowned beaches and value for money attracting visitors from all over the world. But these destinations offer so much more outside of the popular and well-known locations where authentic food experiences can be discovered and enjoyed.
There is something magical about Cambodia and I am already planning my return. Kampot in Cambodia used to be an important port city during the 19th century under French rule. It is a small city filled with French colonial architecture and has a roundabout in honour of the durian fruit, it’s sleepy charm mostly enjoyed by local tourists and visiting the city is so worth it.
It is also known all over the world for its pepper. Only 140km from Phnom Penh, a visit to La Plantation, one of Kampot’s most famous pepper farms is a must-do. Here a pepper tasting is provided followed by a tour of the plantations that grow the pepper and are produced in variants of green, black, red and white. The farm also produces fiery long peppers from Indonesia. In addition to the shop, where there is an array of pepper products for sale, there are two restaurants on the farm. One serving traditional Khmer (Cambodian) dishes and the other serving dishes with a French flavour, both using the locally grown pepper in the dishes on offer. Do make a point of trying one of the pepper ice creams, a flavour explosion for the palette.
Sunset in Kampot is best enjoyed on a river cruise. There are many boats available and boats serve drinks and snacks while you enjoy a slow cruise on the Praek Tuek Chhu River. Enjoy the beautiful and lush scenery as the sun sets and if you are lucky, a visit from local fireflies.
The Kampot Market is anything but sleepy. The vibrant sights and sounds of the market are intoxicating and it is easy to spend hours in the market. Pass the clothing shops as you enter and walk towards the jewelry in the back where many artisans craft pieces of jewelry. To the left of the jewelry section is the fresh food section, filled with traders selling the freshest produce, seafood and meat. Food does not get any fresher and for a westerner the scenes might sometimes be uneasy. But this is real farm to table. Here, going to the market every day to buy your fresh ingredients is a way of life and not a trend.
Kampot might be famous for its pepper but it is just as famous for its salt. Most salt fields are located outside of town and seawater is brought from the sea about 5 km away. The water is left to evaporate until the salt crystals form. Seeing the crystal shine at sunrise is well worth getting up early for.
One of the most wonderful things in life is a chance to see something for the first time and even though Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are well known destinations they offer so much more to see and taste when veering off the usual routes. Not only do you get to see something for the first time but you get to see and taste in a very authentic way.
Back to the recipe. To add loads of flavour to the Khmer Chicken Soup, use bone-in, skin-on chicken portions. That is where the flavour lies. The turmeric (also grown in Kampot) gives the soup a beautiful colour in addition to flavour while the coconut milk adds a rich creamy texture. You can also add loads of veggies just before serving the soup, letting it wilt and heat through. I added pak choi, baby corn and petit pois to the soup to add to the nutritional value. Delicious!
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 10cm lemongrass stalk, finely sliced
- large knob of ginger, grated
- 3 large cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
- 4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
- 4 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 litre boiling water
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp palm sugar
- 1 can coconut milk
- Salt to season
- Sliced salad onion and coriander to serve
- Place the lemongrass, ginger, garlic and turmeric in a pestle and mortar and pound to a paste
- Heat the oil, add the onion and paste and fry over a medium heat for about 5 minutes
- Add the chicken portions and coat with the onion mix
- Add the lime leaves and boiling water and simmer with the lid slightly ajar for 45 minutes
- Remove the chicken and let it cool for 10 minutes or so
- Use your hands and remove the meat from the bones and flake into smaller pieces
- Place the flaked chicken back in the pot
- Add the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar and bring the soup back to the boil
- Reduce the heart, add the coconut milk and simmer for 10 minutes
- Check the seasoning and add more salt or sugar as required
- Serve the soup hot, garnished with salad onion and coriander
I hope you enjoy this recipe for Khmer Chicken Soup. If you’ve made the recipe share it with me by tagging @heinstirred on Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #heinstirred. And click here for more moments from the Cambodia leg of the trip. To read more about the Thailand leg of trip, click here