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was immediately enthusiastic when a


riend recently mentioned the idea of
a culinary tour of Cambodia, a country
I have visited several times and have
always found fascinating, beautiful
and hospitable.
Our trip started in Siem Reap, the
nearest town to the Temples of Angkor
Wat. It was here that I first met our culinary
mentor, the chef Stephane Delourme,
head chef at Rick Stein’s Padstow Seafood
The temple visits done, we took time in
Siem Reap to trawl the vast fruit, vegetable
and fish markets for local produce with our
Cambodian guide and translator Vudthy.
The fertile Cambodian land produces
mountains of fresh food, and over 300
species of freshwater fish are hauled
daily from the Tonle Sap Lake and river.
The markets are chaotic kaleidoscopes of
colour, with laughing-eyed women sitting
atop mountains of fruit, salads or herbs,
offering samples of their wares to any who
stop to look.
As part of our tour we enjoyed a
virtuoso four-hour cookery lesson from
Sour Vong, head chef at the Shinta Mani
hotel. The following day we tried our
newly-learned skills at an orphanage on
the edge of town run by Vudthy and his
brother. After shopping for ingredients
we arrived to a guard of honour of smiling
faces in green and white football strip. To
their great delight we set about chopping,
grinding and mixing, and cooked a simple
lunch version of Sour Vong’s Fish Amok.
The meal was devoured in a fraction of the
time that it took to prepare, and the boys
then challenged the White Giants to a
kickabout in the school yard.
Next morning, at first light, we boarded
the minibus for the lakeside port of
Chong Khneas, a picture-book floating
village inhabited mainly by Vietnamese
fishing families. Even at 7am the place was
seething with activity, and eager porters
swarmed to our bus to manhandle our
luggage to our waiting boat.
La Cougoule (it means “Pretty Girl” in
Marseillaise slang), a 27-metre wooden
A t
river freighter, was bought by her owner,
Pierre Legros, five years ago. Now fully
renovated, she elegantly plies her trade
on the waters of Tonle Sap Lake, from
Chong Khneas to Kompong Chhnang on
the southern side of the lake. She is the
Frenchman’s pride and joy, and he skippers
her with an undisguised glee.
Rich in charm and personality, Cambodia offers travellers a vivid
As we pushed off, gliding past
mangrove and the floating timber
opportunity to get to know the local people. Richard Strange used houses where the early morning fishing
his culinary interests to connect with the communities he visited on
catch was being brought in, the vast
expanse of water ranged ahead of us, all
his tailor-made tour. the way to the far horizon. The lake, in
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