As a city that thrives off of tourism, Siem Reap provides a variety of dining options to suit palates from around the world. Finding a great restaurant in the downtown area, particularly near Pub Street, is all about picking a food type and a seat. Given the variety of excellent dining options for the foreigners, it was surreal to find only 2 kilometers outside of the tourist area is the UNICEF and World Food Program distribution center. This disparity between the locals and the tourists emphasizes the importance of the foreign visitors to their local economy.
Khmer is the the language of Cambodia, and also the most frequent food choice available. The Khmer cuisine, while sharing a lot with Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, and other southeast Asian food, stands out due to the freshness of the spices used. Our favorite Khmer dish was a tofu stuffed with fresh spices mixed into a vegetable puree. On the menus, there were lots of soups, meat items, and a dish that is called Amok, which is a type of Cambodian curry.
It has been over a half a year since we had any Mexican food of note, and when we saw a restaurant that advertised fresh salsa and US$1.50 margaritas, we were quickly sold on the idea. There are two restaurants in Siem Reap that cater to Mexican food. Each of the restaurants are decorated such that you feel transported to a Mexican restaurant that was located in the American Southwest, or at least the American Midwest, as the decorations were stereotypical and generic. For example, in one of the Mexican resturants, there was a large Aztec temple model that took up about 50 square feet.
We found that we prefered to eat on the second floor of many of the restaurants that we went to, for a variety of reasons. Many second floors of restaurants offer a better view with less noise coming from the street, but the biggest reason to head to the second floor is to avoid the street vendors that will come up and interrupt your meal to pedal trinkets, or to outright beg. With the prevalence of landmines from the various conflicts that have occurred in Cambodian history, there are many Cambodians that have become injured due to these devices. Although it is truly heartbreaking to see these individuals, we were fortunate to find several organizations in the area that employ individuals with disabilities in a variety of manners, directing them away from begging.
As we have done on previous trips, our decision on a hotel was partly based on the availability of breakfast at the hotel. Having the consistency of a meal to start the day proved to be a great way to get moving and a time to plan the details of the day. The hotel where we stayed offered a buffet breakfast with an egg station. Owen, by the end of the trip, had built up enough confidence to go to the counter by himself, to ask for his eggs to be cooked the way that he liked, and deliver the cooked eggs for him, as well as Oliver, to the table.
Many of the restaurants were not built to entertain or cater to families with children, but the one that we found that the boys absolutely loved is called Jungle Junction. Jungle Junction not only has a full menu, with a host of children items, but is a entertainment destination for adults and kids alike. Outside, where we sat, had a staff dedicated to monitoring play of the various play structures, the massive sandbox, trampoline, or inflatable bounce castle. The well lit play area had activities for all ages of children. Inside featured a padded play structure room, with a ball pit, monkey bars, and slides. Upstairs is where adults could go, with pool tables, darts, and a full bar. The location is a little tough to find, and is outside of town, but a visit to the mini-golf course of Siem Reap, followed by Jungle Junction would make for a great evening for families of all ages.
Throughout the town, there was a theme of many of the establishments serving "happy" food, which we dismissed at first as a quirk of the English titling of food items. After looking more into it, we discovered that it would be a terrible idea to order "ecstatic pizza" or "jubilant brownies" for the boys. With many of the countries that surround Cambodia having very stringent drug enforcement, pot in the food provides another incentive for some tourists to consider a stop in the area (some people appeared on an extended stay).
Learning about the food culture provides an insight into the overall culture, but Siem Reap seems to cater to their foreign guests such that much of the authenticity is lost. This observation is mostly due to our staying in the tourist area, which it would stand to reckon that some of the originality would be lost in favor of drawing more guests. Our Cambodian food experience was unique due to the diversity of flavors produced by the various climates of the country.
The blog entries from our trip to Siem Reap during the Têt Holiday in 2014.