Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Angkor Temples and Amok

Our first full day in Siem Reap started at sunrise, as we went to watch the sun come up over the Cambodian Jungle. As the sun started to appear, the sounds of the jungle came alive as birds started to chirp and monkeys began their animated conversation with one another. Spectacular. 

We drove further into the jungle to explore the recently discovered, Ta Prohm, more commonly known as The Jungle Temple. As with many of Cambodia's temples, the jungle has swallowed them up making them impenetrable to both tourists and archaeologists alike, until the sites are cleared of the snakes, cobras, spiders and monkeys that have taken up residence in the crumbling remains of Cambodia's past. Only then can UNESCO funded excavations begin their laborious task of putting the temples back together and clearing them of the jungles invasive tangle of growth. The Jungle Temple is a familiar sight for film buffs, as it was one of the locations used for Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. The iconic jungle growth that typifies many of the temples is due to Mynah birds who drop their half eaten seed casings into the crevasses of temple roofs, as they pass overhead, sewing the seeds for future growth!

Next stop on our journey was Angkor Thom, which means Great City in Khmer, and was built in the 12th century by Jayavarman VII, and was the largest city in the Khmer empire at the time. Angkor Thom is an impressive temple complex surrounded by a wide moat, representing the ocean, and at it's heart - the Bayon - and it's 54 towers bearing more than 200 huge smiling stone faces gazing in out in all four directions, representing both Buddha and Jayavarman himself.  

After an early start in the day and having seen many temples, we headed off to The Sugar Palm for dinner, a wonderful Cambodian restaurant in the heart of Siem Reap. An old wooden colonial-style building, our table was out on the balcony with a nice breeze and a great menu. Our temple guide Banock had told us on our tuc-tuc to try Amok. Try saying that three times! When a Cambodian scholar recommends something, it's good practice to follow his advice, and I'm glad we did.

Amok is a traditional Cambodian curry that is steamed instead of boiled, solid yet moist. It's exotic and delicious, and generally served in a coconut shell or banana leaf. 

Fish Amok

400 g firm white fish (monkfish), cut into bite size chunks
1/2 cup coconut cream
2 cups coconut milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp kaffir lime leaves, sliced thinly
2-3 long red chilli peppers, seeded & thinly sliced
300 g kale, collard greens or cabbage leaves (combined with 1 tbsp lemongrass)

The Amok Paste:
2 dried red chilies, soaked and drained
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp fresh galangal (or ginger), chopped
1 tbsp lemon grass stalk
1 tsp lime zest
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp shrimp paste

To make the paste: blend all the paste ingredients smoothly in a small food processor. Combine the paste with 1 cup of coconut milk. When dissolved, stir in the remaining coconut milk, egg, fish sauce and fish.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the stems from the kale and cut into large pieces; make a thin layer in the bottom of 4 ramekins. Spoon in the fish mixture on top and cover with another leaf. Cover each ramekin tightly in foil and place on a roasting tin. Pour in 1 inch of boiling water to the tin and carefully place in the oven. Steam for 20-25 minutes until the fish is cooked and quite solid.