Cooking with Ben
As big fans of both the food and the people of South-East Asia, we have sought out a number of opportunities to visit and learn to cook with local people. Cambodia is rich with such opportunities including this "Cook With Ben" which we found through Withlocals.com. Really, it should be "cook with Ben's Mum" because Ben doesn't do the cooking instruction, though he does help with tasting. For €12 pp, he will collect you from your hotel and bring you home to cook your choice of recipes all from the freshest local produce. Ben speaks good English, which is just as well because "Mum" doesn't. She is delightful though and takes genuine pleasure in showing you her traditional ways. Ben is equally charming and happy to discuss any aspect of life in Cambodia.
Having previously taken part in making rice-noodles the traditional way as well as several Thai cooking sessions, we chose this time to cook chicken and banana flower curry, vegetable rice paper rolls and pumpkin custard.
You really are in a traditional Cambodian home here, which means the amenities are extremely basic. We didn't see a toilet and hand washing facilities consisted of a large bucket of well-water and small bowls with which to pour it on your hands. There was some soft soap which I'm sure is a sop to the tourists. In this climate you don't really need to dry your hands. In any case neither of us had any issues with the food hygiene. Every ingredient was perfectly fresh and immaculately presented.
Though we're not dessert lovers we really enjoyed the pumpkin custard which looks and tastes fantastic when fresh. It is a must for entertaining in pumpkin season back home.
After our return home we received a follow-up e-mail from Ben with all our recipes and we fully intend to go back and see him again. If there is a better way of making sure your tourist dollars go straight to a hard-working local family, I can't think of one.