Our new Cambodia food tour focuses on the handmade, home-cooked and hands-on. You’ll observe living culinary traditions at risk of disappearing, do Cambodian cooking classes and market tours with Siem Reap’s best chefs, get lessons in Cambodian barbecue and traditional desserts, and try your hand at making fermented rice noodles and crafting Khmer cocktails.
UPDATE: April 2018: Our Cambodia Culinary Tour, the Handmade, Homecooked and Hands-on Edition has been named as one of 100 Essential Asia Pacific Experiences that you should put on your 2018 travel bucket list by DestinAsian, one of the region’s finest travel magazines.
We have just a few spots left on this new 8-night, fully-escorted, all-inclusive, small-group Cambodia Food Tour which we’re hosting from 3-10 June 2018 and we’re offering 10% off to fill them fast. The full price is US$3,322 but book now and pay in full by end of April 2018 and you’ll pay just US$2,990. We’re offering 15% off to Grantourismo subscribers.
Note that this new Cambodia Food Tour is a condensed version of our 10-night Cambodian Culinary Tours, reduced to 8 nights at the requests of readers, to enable you to leave home on Friday, fly into Siem Reap in Cambodia on Saturday, and fly out from Siem Reap the following Sunday morning – which means you’ll only need to take five days off work.
This new tour still showcases Cambodia’s delicious yet little known cuisine, dispels myths that it’s just a milder form of Thai, and demonstrates that Cambodian cuisine was way ahead of its time. It has the same engaging experiences we currently offer, led by our local guides and travel partners – from authentic cooking classes with some of Siem Reap’s finest chefs to community-based activities in the villages and countryside with some of the Cambodia’s most responsible and ethical tour companies.
There are just a few differences. We’ve enhanced our current experiences so that they are more hands-on plus we’ve added to this a handful of new experiences focused on the hand-made and home-cooked, including lessons from locals on Cambodian-style barbecuing, traditional desserts, and making fermented rice noodles. This means that while there is still some downtime for lazing by the swimming pool and pampering yourself at the spa, there is less of it, with more opportunities to learn and engage with locals instead.
Cambodia Food Tour – The Handmade, Home-Cooked and Hands-On Edition
The woman wearing a red-checked Cambodian cotton krama, sitting cross-legged on a mat in her open-air kitchen, above, is making a traditional Cambodian dessert. It’s a delicate dish, comprised of worm-like rice-flour pasta that sits in a sweet soup of warm, fresh, first-pressed coconut milk, and a little shaved coconut flesh.
Our dessert lady serves this old Cambodian specialty in natural baskets that she assembles quickly and with ease from a banana leaf that she wrenches from the trees that grow in her untamed tropical garden. She judiciously sprinkles sesame seeds on top and finishes with a dusting of palm sugar. The dish may sound simple but it’s a lengthy, laborious process for one woman.
Waking in the wee hours of the morning to light a fire to boil water in the corrugated iron and timber lean-to that serves as her main kitchen space, our dessert lady grinds her rice in a granite mill that’s no different to those her ancestors used thousands of years ago.
She will also crack open a coconut from a neighbour’s tree, straddle a traditional wooden coconut grater to scrape the white flesh from within, and wrap the moistened coconut meat tightly in a cotton muslin cloth to squeeze out the coconut milk. She’ll use creamier first press.
Many hours later, when she’s done, she will take the precious desserts to the local market to sell. Unless, of course, she has a special order or a fancy vehicle loaded with nostalgic city folk from Phnom Penh arrive to buy a whole batch.
Whenever we visited our dessert lady to watch the final stages, she’d greet us with a big smile and would continue smiling until the end when I’d poke around her wild yard for a flower for a photo, returning with a sprig of crimson bougainvillea or a fragrant frangipani.
It was clearly a smile of bemusement, as, despite our visits – initially for research for the Cambodian cookbook we’re writing, later to bring my small culinary tour groups – I don’t believe our dessert lady valued her work or understood why these curious foreigners appreciated it, closely observing, asking so many questions, and taking too many photos.
She was amused. Especially the first time I took a little group that included three enthusiastic, food-loving Indian women from Dubai – two adult daughters who ran culinary tours and their keen mum. Up for anything, they took turns on her kitchen mat, legs crossed, to learn how to roll the dainty rice-flour pasta.
I do believe our visits brought her some pleasure and I know my payment to cover our intrusion into her home and interruption to her schedule was appreciated, relieving the pressure somewhat to sell all her desserts that day. But I don’t think she fully comprehended why we came.
I am writing in the past tense for a reason. Don’t worry – our dessert lady is still with us. But the last time I set out to visit her, my driver informed me that she’d stopped making her much-treasured dessert. Perhaps the many years of early morning finally caught up with her. Perhaps she couldn’t take the sheer tediousness anymore.
Because what for us was a fascinating process and an age-old craft to be admired, was for our dessert lady pure monotony, as she told me in an interview years ago for a story on Cambodian cuisine. Her response to my question as to whether she enjoyed her profession will astonish you when you read it in our book.
Without our occasional visits, or those by neighbours who dropped in regularly for an early morning gossip, sitting down to assist in exchange for babysitting a child or some other chore our dessert lady could help them out with, the task of making this divine little dish was absolute tedium.
I’m sad that our dessert lady stopped making her desserts. I worry that nobody will take her place. In her village, once renowned as a dessert making centre, only one other family continues to produce traditional sweets (we visit them on our tours), although they don’t make the delicate dessert pasta for which this hardworking woman was well-regarded – and much admired by her infrequent foreign foodie visitors.
Our New Cambodia Food Tour – What Makes This Tour Special
After recently sharing the image of the Battambang villager making rice paper, above, on Instagram, not only did it get lots of likes, a few people contacted me with questions. One woman expressed surprise at how there still seemed to be so much being made by hand in Cambodia. She thought products like rice paper and noodles were only produced in factories these days.
In fact, they are mostly manufactured in neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, which have much larger populations – 68 million and 92 million respectively, compared to Cambodia’s 16 million people – so many more mouths to feed. They also export more foodstuffs than Cambodia.
Thailand and Vietnam are also economically more developed with higher GDPs per capita – US$5,662 and US$2,164 respectively in early 2017, compared to Cambodia’s US$1,228 (source: IMF). Not only is Cambodia poorer, 80% of the population lives in rural areas. As you drive through the countryside you see very little farm machinery; I rarely see a tractor.
Travel around Cambodia during rice harvest and you’ll see locals bent over in the paddies, picking rice by hand. You’ll think your driver is manoeuvering around an imaginary obstacle course until you realise he’s dodging farmers raking rice across tarpaulins spread over a traffic lane, no matter whether it’s a quiet dirt road or busy bitumen highway.
When they’re not farming rice, Cambodian villagers are making things by hand from their humble home workshops using the same methods and rustic ‘technology’ that their ancestors have for a millennium or two – or more. Cottage industries are alive and well in Cambodia, though we’re not sure for how long.
On this Cambodia Food Tour (as well as our other culinary tours and food and travel writing retreats) we’ll take you on tuk tuk trundles through the countryside and villages with our Cambodian guides and drivers to visit local homes where you’ll observe makers of rice noodles, rice paper, rice spirits, prahok (fermented fish), palm sugar, traditional desserts, and fruit parchment, as well as makers of baskets, grass mats, and more, if of interest.
On our new Cambodia Food Tour you’ll get to try your hand at making some of these things, as well as learn to cook Cambodian food. We’ve added two more cooking experiences to the itinerary. We usually include at least two cooking classes with chefs from two of Siem Reap’s finest restaurants, however, we’ve added to those a couple of experiences led by Cambodian cooks, including lessons in Khmer barbecue and a traditional dessert class in a local home.
We’ve also retained the experiences that our participants have loved, including market walks, street food torus, a rice wine tasting, and Khmer cocktail class, as well as excursions out to Angkor Archaeological Park to explore stupendous Angkor Wat and other enchanting temples, both star attractions and lesser-visited archaeological sites.
Here’s the important stuff you need to know about our new Cambodia food tour…
NEW CAMBODIA FOOD TOUR 2018 DATES
3-10 June 2018 (check out 11 June)
8-Night Fully Escorted Small Group Cambodia Food Tour
Full price US$ 3,322*
Discounted price US$ 2,990
At the request of readers, we’ve reduced it to 8 nights, so you can leave home on Friday, fly into Siem Reap in Cambodia on Saturday, and fly out the following Sunday morning – and you’ll only need to take five days off work. The full price is US$3,322 but book now and pay in full by end of April 2018, you’ll pay just US$2,990 as we must close bookings soon.
Deadline for payment: end of March 2018 to get the discounted price.
Deposit: $500 non-refundable deposit to hold all bookings.
Incentives: a Cambodia culinary gift pack and 60-minute massage.
Notes: these prices are for single occupancy in a double room (prices for double occupancy and families available upon request) and we have just six double/twin rooms available.
VIP visa fast-track service (you pay for your own visa)
Return airport transfers
8 nights luxury accommodation at Hillocks Hotel & Spa, Siem Reap and Bambu Resort, Battambang, based on single occupancy of a double room
All daily breakfasts
8 dinners, including multi-course degustation menus at Siem Reap’s finest restaurants
Countless tastings and snacks
4 cooking classes + 1 cocktail making class
All temple tours, excursions, activities, experiences, and entry fees
Travel insurance (compulsory)
Angkor Archaeological Park temple passes (valued at US$62 for three days)
Hotel incidentals such as laundry, mini-bar, calls, room service, etc
All drinks and alcoholic drinks, except water on tours and excursions
Tips for guides and drivers
READY TO BOOK OR NEED MORE INFO ON OUR CAMBODIA FOOD TOUR?
Get in touch by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Click through to this post on all our Cambodia Culinary Tours and Travel & Food Writing and Photography Retreats for more details on all of the above and to read the testimonials of people who have done our tours.
If you’re media and have questions about our new Cambodia Food Tour; a blogger or publisher who’d like to join our affiliate programme; or an individual/business that would like to sponsor a local on our Cambodia Food Tour, you’ll find information on that previous Tours & Retreats link also or just email us.