Cambodian Rice Noodle Soup and a Surprise
When it comes to street food sometimes things are not what they appear to be. At other times things taste far better than they sound. Last summer I went on a tour and street food adventure in Cambodia with my friend Pin Vannak. I knew I was going to be leaving Siem Reap and I asked Vannak to show me to some of his favorite, but little known, sites around Angkor Wat and at the same time to take me to a few of his favorite places to eat. I asked him to forget that I am an American and just take me to places that interested him and places he liked. After touring around for most of the morning Vannak wanted to take me to his favorite noodle shop just outside of Siem Reap. I though okay, noodle soup, not very adventurous or exciting but he was acting as guide and his judgment had always been spot on.
When we arrived at the restaurant I could see several big stainless steel pots steaming with different styles of delicious looking soups. The smell as it wafted through the small, open sided tin roofed structure was tantalizing. Cambodian rice noodle soup (in Khmer: Nom Banh Chok meaning, Cambodian rice fresh middle with Cambodian soup), often known simply as Cambodian Noodles, starts with a pork broth which is simmered with fresh herbs such as coriander, holy basil, Kampot pepper and other aromatics . This is then combined with vegetables such as sweet potatoes, spring onions, and pretty much whatever else is available and ladled over handmade rice noodles in a large bowl.
Since I didn’t know what varietals were available I just let Vannak order for me. Mine came with what looked like bits of white meat chicken, a bit of offal of some sort and some big blocks of something that looked like brownish red tofu. I used my chopsticks to pick up a piece and examine it. It had the same weight and texture as tofu. It smelled rich but mostly like the soup and the chilies I had added to it. I bit the piece in half and quite liked it. Again, the texture was like tofu; the taste was quite mild but there was a distinct iron flavor as well. Casually I asked what it was I had just tried and Vannak casually told me – pig blood jelly (aka, congealed pig’s blood or pig’s blood tofu.) Okay, glad I didn’t ask before, but I did finish my bowl and actually quite liked it!