ALTHOUGH health and nutrition go hand in hand, the foods we eat are multitudinous in their variety, their preparation, their cooking and their style, embracing their cultures throughout the world.
From staples such as rice to the fish and crustaceans of the ocean, the meat and the poultry, the wonderful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, they adorn our plates, are cooked in hundreds of different styles with as many sauces and accompaniments you could dream up.
Whether we dine out or dine in, nutritionists always tell us what is good for us, the balanced diet we need the minerals and vitamins which must be part of our daily intake.
But food should be fun, and enjoying it should be fun and in Asia for locals and visitors alike that means the street stalls, the roadside and pavement vendors with their amazing culinary wares, many mouthwatering, others for the adventurous.
Throughout Cambodia you will find thousands of street vendors from the far north to the southern beaches, the villages, the islands – and, of course, in our capital, Phnom Penh.
And while you can get virtually anything from clothes and sunglasses, books to beads, it’s the food that has an appeal like no other, eating al fresco without the trimmings.
For the visitors, tourists and short-stay residents, you can find food-sellers day or night on hundreds of streets, the aromas wafting from the woks and skillets, meat and chicken, fish, rice and corn, duck eggs at the ready and passing carts with even more exotic taste-ticklers.
The street vendors are part of Cambodian culture, loved by the visitors but the street foods and snacks they provide for the local people, many with a low income, others students, are the vital source of inexpensive, fast nutritional food.
According to the international Food and Agriculture Organisation 2.5 billion people eat street food every day. As a fast, tasty meal option at relatively low cost food vendors play an important socio-economic role and provide jobs for many low income families.
Migration from rural areas to urban centres has seen a rise in street vendors and those eating outside the home.
Women play a major role in the street food industry which often involves whole families and in Cambodia 80 percent of GDP and 95 percent of employment is said to come from the “informal” sector, heavily dominated by women
Customers from various economic levels benefit from nutritious, low-cost meals. In Asia, urban households spend 15 to 50 percent of their food budgets on street foods and those with little or no income depend on it almost exclusively.
Street foods are a bargain for customers when the demands of time and costs of food, fuel, cooking equipment and transportation are considered.
Almost every culture in the world has some version of street food, and it has grown to symbolise the origin and complex flavors of each part of the world.Street foods often reflect traditional local cultures and exist in an endless variety.
What’s popular, what’s good to try when it comes to the street vendors of Phnom Penh and Cambodia? Locals and tourists may have different ideas and tastes but eating from the street vendors gives a sense of freedom and enjoyment as well as a taste of the real Cambodia.
So try some of the delights and remember you could eat out for a week for the cost of a three-course upmarket restaurant meal.
Whatever you want you’ll probably find it somewhere, from the meats and the chicken to the bamboo rice, sausages to boiled eggs and fried bananas, and then being extra adventurous, snake or fried beetles and bugs – a good beer appetiser as a change from peanuts – and then, of course, there’s a local delicacy of spiders doused in soy sauce, fried in garlic and salt.
So go enjoy a tarantula – the street vendors are waiting.