How Local Can You Go?

March 21, 2007

It’s been an expensive few days.

Cambodia has probably been the least expensive country we’ve visited so far. Our budget has hovered around $35-40 a day for the both of us, whereas in Vietnam we struggled to cap our spending at $50. However, with the cooking class we took yesterday ($20/person), the shadow puppet show tonight ($6/person), the monstrously expensive Angkor Wat pass ($40/person), and transportation around the temples for 3 days ($12-35/day), we’re trying to eliminate everything but the bare necessities.

Case in point, the previously mentioned puppet show. Every Wednesday, La Noria, a stylish boutique hotel in Siem Reap, holds a shadow puppet show to support a local NGO. We paid $6 for admission, which didn’t include food. Taking one look at the menu, however, we decided to be the kind of cheapskates that all waiters loathe, and ordered one drink, the cheapest on the menu.  The food there, you see, was a luxury we could not afford, with entrees priced astronomically at $3. No matter, thought we. After the show, we’ll simply head down the street to the food stalls where all of the locals ate.

I’m not a brave person. I don’t scuba dive, or parasail, or stay in hotels without electricty. I hate bugs and mice and am scared of most animals that are not cats or dogs. There is one area, however, where my courage surpases even the hardiest of men, and that is food. I will eat anything.

Some of the most memorable meals I have had been taken off of red plastic chairs and makeshift wooden tables in the middle of the sidewalk. They have come from huge, steaming vats that have been sitting out in the pollution of Southeast Asia’s streets for the entire day. Vendors have taken my money while swatting away at swarms of flies. I have sucked down drinks cooled by the perilous ice that all the guidebooks caution against.

In part, my bravery comes in a little, green pill I take every morning to prevent malaria. It’s an antibiotic, one side effect being that it kills a wealth of pesky bacteria, including anything I’d get from food. It’s not only the meds, though. The other aspect to my bravery is the trade-off I would have to make sticking to the backpacker restaurants – do I want rubbery banana pancakes and hard french fries every day, or do I want food that tastes good?

But I’ve gotten sidetracked here.

So we were cheap and starved through the puppet show. By the time it ended, however, most of the local restaurants had either closed or run out of food. That left us slim pickings. We should have resigned ourselves and eaten in our guesthouse’s restaurant, but where was the fun in that, right?

I reached my limit tonight. The point where even I, the Human Garbage Can, starving, refused to eat the food put in front of me.

We chose a stall whose “dining area” was set on a small lot. Opting for fried fish and chicken curry, I sat in anticipation. The cold, soggy fish came. It tasted dank, like it had been fried in three-day-old oil. The chicken curry was actually chicken bone curry served on a bed of fresh herbs. I was afraid I’d choke and die on the small, jagged pieces of bone crunching around in my teeth every time I chewed. The flourescent light from the other stalls barely reached our table; I could have been eaten curried rusty nails and wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. To top it all off, half-way through the meal, I noticed something small and black scurrying not two feet from where I sat.  Cockroaches. Here’s my idea for the next diet fad: it’s called, The There-Are-Cockroaches-Under-My-Feet-While-I’m-Eating Diet, and it’s 100% guaranteed to get rid of any inkling of an appetite you may have had.

We paid ($1.50 for everything) and left. It will be one of those nights, again. The kind of night where you pray to any God listening that you please don’t get sick the next day, the next time, I swear, I won’t eat those noodles/vegetables/chicken bits, just please, I can’t get sick tomorrow, any other day but tomorrow.

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2 Responses to “How Local Can You Go?”

  1. Tammie said

    Maybe I’ll try your Cockroach Diet…sounds promising. I’ll just have to ship in some really huge, flying palmetto bugs that live nowhere else besides tropical climates.

    I had some PF Changs for luch a few hours ago, and my stomach turned as I read your post….I’m learning just how gutsy you are with every day that goes by!

  2. sailorjes said

    Gutsy only when it comes to food. I ate pig intestine yesterday. It was surprisingly good! No cockroaches either…always a plus!

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