Another post from high in the air: this time between the high-rise and motorbikes of Saigon and the beaches and markets of Hoi An, Vietnam. The last week has been a blur of activity, speeding past in the way that only holidays can. Cambodia is a country I could have spent much longer in – from the sights of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, to the bustling energy of Phnom Penh and the friendliness of the people, who genuinely crack a smile from ear to ear on seeing us gawky tourists trying to communicate in local markets, and who would run after you if you accidentally gave the wrong payment in thousands of riel – it is a country I would recommend to anyone.
Here are a few highlights from the trip so far, along with a recipe for one of my favourite new breakfast foods – mango & coconut black sticky rice pudding.
Cambodian food tends to be milder than the fiery Thai and Vietnamese next door – more sweet, coconutty fish amok, steamed in a banana leaf bowl, and smoky chargrilled aubergine with minced pork. The Cambodians emphasise texture in food, with mouth-feel and contrasts all important. Our market breakfast bowl of coconut pork noodles included regular silky rice noodles, a thick, lattice-like noodle, flaky pork spring rolls, smaller chunks of pork mince, the crunch of roasted nuts, handfuls of fresh herbs and a fiery hit of chilli balanced by both a lime-fish sauce dressing and a hint of coconut milk. At $1 per bowl, we were back there again the next morning!
I never thought I would be a condensed milk coffee fan – but something about that cold drip coffee, sweetened and served in a plastic cup full of ice, sipped while seated on a tiny stool in a crowded market, sweat running down our cheeks and cotton sticking to our backs – has me ordering it again and again.
Waffles and doughnuts were our post-breakfast treats – but not as you know them. Incorporating more savoury components to avoid the sickly sugariness of Western versions, my favourite was a ring made of a sticky glutinous rice batter, fried and topped with a sticky, crackly palm sugar glaze – the sort that sticks and crunches between your teeth. The other was a coconut batter with a spoon of yellow bean paste piped inside and a sticky sesame glaze, all nutty, sweet and savoury at once. The waffles are still made in traditional waffle irons over coals, giving a deep, golden swirled appearance. Again unlike our versions, the waffles were made from a potato, coconut meat and sugar batter, giving a thick, more savoury pancake with heavy coconut flavour.
I finally tried a black rice pudding during a motorbike tour of Saigon two nights ago – glutinous and sticky, the rice itself was plain and topped with a scoop of coconut ice cream, melting in rivulets through the rice and finished with chunks of mango, sweeter and juicier than the winter imports in our colder climates. Though that was a version for dessert, this mango & coconut black sticky rice pudding could be eaten for breakfast, or brunch, lacking the decadence of the coconut ice cream but with cool, silky coconut cream in its place. Cooked with vanilla until tender and sticky, the purple-black rice is sweetened with coconut sugar and caramelised banana – I found that coconut or palm sugar delivered more flavour than regular white sugar could. Toppings are whatever you choose, but I kept it tropical with mango and passionfruit, and couldn’t resist the bright pop of fresh pomegranate arils.
It’s not a usual breakfast – but we eat porridge, and chia puddings, and bircher muesli – so why not rice? The Cambodian and Vietnamese people see our breakfasts of cereal and yogurt as being just as strange.
- 150g black glutinous rice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence or 1 vanilla pod, split in half
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1-2 ripe bananas, sliced
- 50g coconut sugar, palm sugar or raw castor sugar (coconut sugar is my favourite!)
- 300ml coconut cream
- to top:
- Passionfruit pulp
- Toasted coconut
- Whatever else you like!
- In a medium saucepan, bring 1L water to a boil. Add the black rice and vanilla and cook, uncovered, for 35-45 minutes on a very low heat. Stir occasionally until soft and sticky (I like to keep mine with a little bit of bite/nuttiness to the rice, but this is personal preference!). If the rice dries out before it is soft, just add a little more water as you go.
- Right before it is ready, heat a small frypan over medium-high heat with the tablespoon of butter. Add the sliced banana and cook for 3-5 minutes until starting to caramelise. Set aside for serving.
- Drain and tip the rice into a large bowl.
- Add the coconut sugar and mix to combine.
- Divide the rice behind the serving bowls. Top with the coconut cream, caramelised banana and your choice of toppings - I like to use mango, passionfruit, toasted coconut and pomegranate when they are available .