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Expanding one's culinary horizons

Expanding one's culinary horizons

A monument to frogs past: almost nothing is off-limits to Cambodian gourmands. Bloomberg

It’s easy for expats to dismiss the stranger local bites on offer. But, then, when in Rome...

My stomach began churning. What was I doing? What would it taste like?

STAYING at home for three days straight can do funny things to a man's mind. After a particularly heavy, and expensive, weekend, I decided a self-imposed exile was the only solution.

By Day 3, I was manic, sitting in an irreparable man-shaped indent in my US$25 mattress, surrounded by the leftovers of three consecutive fish-and-chip dinners, and whooping with delight as Ellen Degeneres danced down the steps at the start of her show.

Yet the final straw came when I mouthed, "Really? Whose?" with bitchy intent, in answer to that blonde Desperate Housewife's assertion that, "I've got a husband now."

That was the moment I decided I had to get out of my apartment for some dinner. At least, I would the following night... I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here was on next with Lou Diamond Phillips in it!

Up for it
So, after a cracking night's sleep in my indent, I rose the next afternoon and was ready to take on the world.
I had decided to eat at Khmer Borane, a little restaurant I had heard good things about, which specialises in cheap, traditional(ish) Khmer food.

As I live close to Wat Phnom, it is a fair old walk to the restaurant at the south end of Sisowath Quay. At least, it is if you have spent the past three days wallowing in a den of chip grease and Star World-induced psychosis.

Tight budget
Yet with only $7 earmarked for my reintroduction to the world, I decided a 50-cent moto ride and walking home afterwards was the way to go.
The restaurant is very cute, resplendent in fairy lights, and there are a number of enticing choices on the menu. Yet there was one option that caught my eye and wouldn't let go - fried frog with peppers and onions.

Still suffering from my stay-at-home haze, I waged a mental war with myself. After all, there were spare ribs on the menu as well.
As the waitress approached to obtain my order, I almost involuntarily blurted out: "I'll have the frog please!" before she had even reached my table, let alone taken out her notepad.

The diners around me seemed impressed with my brave decision, as was I; I'm sure one particularly debonair gentleman even gave me one of those nods that only the cognoscenti share.

I had planned to try new things during my time in Cambodia and wimped out until now, preferring to gorge myself on badly realised versions of Western food and the occasional chicken amok.

But look at me now! I was Bruce Willis; I was Indiana Jones; I was Lou Diamond Phillips!

However, the feeling I had finally taken my place among the most daring men alive soon receded. It was replaced firstly by nerves and then by reality's unforgiving slap.

Pre-meal nerves
My stomach began churning. What was I doing? What would it taste like? What if I didn't like it? Why had I just spent the last bit of money I had available, for the first proper meal I'd had in three days, on fried frog?

I was genuinely nervous, and it was clear I hadn't been thinking straight. After all, I'd chosen frogs over spare ribs; surely it is only a matter of time before this test is used to ascertain whether a man needs to pay a visit to the psych ward.

Yet when the dish arrived, 30 agonising minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised. The whole, slightly slimy frogs I had pictured in my mind's eye were not present. Instead, what confronted me were not dissimilar to miniature chicken wings, with plenty of green peppers, in a slightly spicy sauce.

Familiar taste
It has become a cliche to say that frog tastes a bit like chicken. Yet I cannot think of a better comparison to make.
It is similar in taste, texture and just a little bit greasier. It is not unpleasant in the slightest, although the main, and crucial, difference comes with the size of the animals.

Frogs are, of course, much smaller than chickens and thus have much smaller bones. This results in you spending more time picking tiny pieces of frog skeleton out of your mouth than actually eating the small amount of meat.

Many creatures great and small are enjoyed as delicacies throughout Southeast Asia. Both the riverside area and the Central Market are home to vendors peddling what the Post's Marika Hill called "Cambodia's crittery bites", including grilled snake, deep-fried tarantula, crickets and larvae, black beetles - and frogs.

Pastures new
I definitely enjoyed my amphibious specimen, and my meal has given me a new admiration for frogs' muscular thighs. I have also realised that perhaps being a little bit dazed when ordering food can produce some serendipitous results.

Next week I'm planning to visit one of the markets and get to grips with those spiders I've been considering since I arrived. I won't be scared this time though; Lou Diamond Phillips wouldn't be.


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