Cycle 3 – Item 309
9 (Fri) November 2012
Cambodian Nom Chienn
-Gwanghui, Jung, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with W and DJ
Project 30/30/30: 9 of 45 (see also 45/45/45)
Throughout this November, I am challenging myself to eat 30 dishes from 30 countries over the course of 30 consecutive days.
Cambodia is the 9th country.
On my trip to Phnom Penh in September, I acquired Authentic Cambodian Recipes From Mother to Daughter by Sorey Long, a Cambodian cookbook. It was named Best Asian Cuisine Cookbook in the World by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2010, as the cover proudly proclaims.
Nom Chienn is a Cambodian dish. Typically involves minced pork and glass noodles, plus aromatics, wrapped in rice paper, deep-fried, served as an appetizer, often with sweet chili sauce.
The original plan was to feature amok trey. According to my colleague in Phnom Penh, the dish is so labor-intensive that it’s only cooked on special occasions at home or available at fancy restaurants. Both times that I tried it in Cambodia were memorable experiences. Now, it’s the dish that I most associate with the country. Valiantly, I adapted the recipe from the cookbook. Because I can’t get certain ingredients necessary to make yellow curry from scratch – namely, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime zest – I went with a packaged Thai yellow curry paste, hoping it’d be more or less the same thing. I also didn’t have any banana leafs, so I had the brilliant idea of steaming the mix in a bowl shaped like a hollowed out bell pepper -green and round and thus close enough. And I substituted cod, as suggested, for the snakefish murrel called for in the recipe.
With deep regret, my vainglorious attempt turned out to be an epic fail. A few minutes into the steaming, I took a peek and saw that the bowl had cracked under the heat, forcing me to take the whole thing out before it was fully cooked, just in case the bowl were to break apart completely. I took a photo with the garniture as intended, which shows a visible crack about midway on the left rim. The bigger problem was that I failed to account for the sodium already in the ready-made paste as I added fish sauce and salt to the mix, making the final product unbearably salty. Also, as per the instructions on the container, the paste requires an initial sauté in oil to develop and soften the flavors, but the straight-to-steam here left the curry with a raw bitterness, even after I’d tossed everything in a wok for a few minutes to complete the cooking. Oh well.
The many culinary mishaps attributed to Cambodia on the blog thus far, including tonight’s amok trey, might give a false impression that I’ve been less-than-thrilled with my Cambodian experiences and/or with Cambodian food in general. Quite the contrary, the fond memories of my culinary adventures in Phnom Penh have left me with what I anticipate will be a lifelong appreciation for the cuisine. In some cases, however, I happened to feature some odd items that scored low for various reasons, even though the meal overall was otherwise great.
Ordinarily, I might’ve chosen to feature the amok for today’s post because it’s more interesting to me, the dish in general and the dish that I flopped, but I’ll go with the nom chienn, just to give Cambodian cuisine a break. And for an additional touch of authenticity, the plate is from Cambodia (long-time readers should know what that means) (see also 3.270 Fried Water Buffalo with Snow Peas).
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)