The next days, I attended a Khmer cooking class and went to the Cambodian circus.
I took the class at Nary’s Cooking school, in the kitchen of Nary restaurant, an unassuming little place near the central market. It was taught by Nary’s English speaking husband, Toot and included a trip to the market to pick up fresh ingredients for our meal, and also to initiate us to some unique sights (eels lurking in plastic buckets), smells (fresh lemongrass), and tastes (durian = heavenly).
For $7 (the website says it is now $15) we prepared, cooked, and ate three meals: fried spring rolls, fish amok (Cambodia’s national dish) and beef lok lak. I have a recipe book that I will scan for you all soon!
The class was just me and a fellow tourist, Richard, from Britain. We received “personalized attention” from Toot. I would argue it was too much – he hovered over me and kept criticizing my skills! Apparently I don’t know proper mortar and pestle technique and am too slow at chopping. Growing up the joke at home was that I was not “bonne a marrier” which in French is “fit to be wed” because I suck in the kitchen. It’s one thing for my mom to say that, but quite another to hear it from a self-important Cambodian cooking instructor! Needless to say, he whipped/chopped/sliced/ground me into shape, and the results were delicious.
The next night, I went with Richard and a Cambodian guy at the B&B to the circus! The circus is sponsored by Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO that gives youths from deprived backgrounds the opportunity to channel their energies into learning circus skills such as juggling, clowning and acrobatics whilst raising awareness of issues such as HIV/AIDS, landmines and child rights.
According to their pamphlet, it started back in 1986 in the refugee camps on the Thai border with simple drawing workshops. The experiment continued after the refugees returned to their homelands in Battambang and Phare Ponleu Selpak now has a worldwide reputation, even attracting trainers from Cirque du Soleil. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night!