In 2010, I took a short but memorable expedition into Siem Reap, a city and province in northwestern Cambodia. The night before it began I arranged for a motor-tricycle to take two friends and me to Angkor Wat, the temple complex built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. We left our hotel around 5am while it was still pitch black. We arrived at and with a flashlight found a perfect spot, facing east, with the giant shadow of Angkor Wat in front of us. Hundreds of tourists were there to witness the magical sunrise that arises from behind the complex. All eyes were focused on the silhouette of Angkor Wat where the warm, changing shades of sunrise were at play until the sun was completely up.
Early morning life in the countryside around Angkor Wat and the town of Siem Reap is beautiful and serene. For visitors there is no better way to learn about the country than to watch the locals go about their day. A herd of birds flew out from their nests and the locals accomplished a great deal between dawn and noon. The woman in the picture above had bundled dried branches into brushes which she carried by bicycle to sell at the local market.
A lively place to visit early in the morning is the local market. The Psah Chas (Old Market) is not to be missed by visitors to Siem Reap. I found a place in the market that served coffee and joined the locals for the Khmer national breakfast—a fish curry with fresh herbs and rice noodles. I used sign language and a smile to order the dish. This curried noodle dish is identical to a Thai dish called Khanom Jean, though milder. Giant mudfish are a popular fish for all fish dishes including Amok, Khmer fish curry stew, and prahok, a fermented fish paste. The Psah Chas Old Market is a great place to learn Khmer Cuisine Ingredients 101.
After admiring all the fresh vegetables, fruits and staple ingredients, I purchased many packages of Amok Curry Powder to take home for myself and my foodie friends. The powder is made for tourists, and can be bought at the Psah Chas Old Market or at the Siem Reap Airport. Most of the produce I found at the market was the same as in Thailand.
At home in Seattle lately I have been pan-frying all kinds of fish, from salmon to catfish, and they’ve all turned out delicious. Above is the pan-fried sea bass with Amok Curry Powder that I prepared for my family the other day. They loved its instant flavor of Southeast Asia, so I felt it was time to share this recipe and story with you. No matter how much time passes, the flavor of Amok curry and my memories of Siem Reap will always be with me.
From 12 noon clockwise: lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, shallot, Kaffir lime leaf and galangal. Center: red spur and Thai chilies
Amok Curry Powder
This creation was inspired by my March 2010 trip to Cambodia when I purchased many bottles of Amok Curry Powder. I used the powder on salmon and sea bass and really loved the citrus and lemongrass flavors and the combustion caused by the combination of flavors. I spent over a year trying to come up with my own combination by simply following the structure of Khmer curry paste ingredients shown in the photo above. Now I would say that my Amok Curry Powder is quite good. It can be enjoyed as a spice rub over any fish or seafood for a quick and easy dish. Above is a photograph of my Amok Curry Powder sprinkled over sea bass, which was then pan-fried and served with stir-fried peas. The simplicity of this dish and the good fresh fish let the Siem Reap Amok flavor stand out. Together they go a long way in anyone’s kitchen.¼ teaspoon black pepper flakes ½ teaspoon Thai chili powder ½ teaspoon garlic granules 1 teaspoon turmeric powder 1 teaspoon galangal powder 1 teaspoon sea salt 2 teaspoons lemongrass powder 1 teaspoon Kaffir lime leaf powder
Combine black pepper flakes, Thai Chili powder, garlic granules, turmeric powder, galangal powder, sea salt and lemongrass powder in a small bowl. Store in a spice jar for up to 2 weeks. For freshness, keep the mixture in the freezer, or mix just enough spices for a single use. Spices stay fresh longer if they are stored separately rather than combined.
Pranee’s note: To make galangal, Kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass powders, purchase these ingredients in the dry form—or make your own—and grind them n a spice grinder. Please look for Pranee’s future post on how to make dried lemongrass powder.© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen I Love Thai cooking Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com .
- How to Make Amok Banana Leaf Cup (ilovethaicooking.wordpress.com)
- Amok, Khmer Fish Stew Recipe (ilovethaicooking.wordpress.com)
- Kroeung Khmer Curry Paste Recipe (ilovethaicooking.wordpress.com)
- Angkor Wat! – Siem Reap, Cambodia (travelpod.com)
- Bangkok To Siem Reap: The Journey (carolinemajor.wordpress.com)
- Cycling Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia (travelpod.com)