Follow Your Gut – The Reality of Street Kitchens

Street kitchen in Kuala Lumpur.
Street kitchen in Kuala Lumpur.

That pink plastic. This and many other little things make street kitchens unglamorous and slightly un-photogenic. When I take photos for my blog, I try to take luscious photos but often, what is there, is not. Part of the “challenge” of traveling is appreciating the deliciousness in a street noodle even when eating it out of a styrofoam container while sweat drips in your eye. All while the locals either stare at you like they are watching a circus act. Or ignore you but wish that you would get out of the way so that they could also get their $1 snack of saturated fats and MSG.

This was a cute pot.
This was a cute pot.

In Dhaka, I rarely eat at street stalls because I’m not sure that my internal flora and fauna can hack it. I will eat at a few phoughka stands and Dhaba supposedly was set up to bring street food off the street, but the rule is to go with your gut. If there are a lot of people and the food has not had a chance to sit around growing bacteria, then maybe you’ll be okay. But if your instinct kicks in and you get a queasy feeling even before you eat on the street, then don’t do it.

Instant Noodle on the Street

This stir fried noodle stand was in Kuala Lumpur
This stir fried noodle stand was in Kuala Lumpur

One of the foods found almost everywhere is the instant ramen noodle. Except in India and Bangladesh. But that may be changing. I recently saw a commercial for Maggi brand noodles with the patriarch of Bollywood eating instant noodles. Ramen is a soup in Japan and Korea. To sell these in India, the instant noodle dish in the commercial was less soupy. Using the noodles for a stir fry is how the noodles are used in Malaysia (that magician at the night market made the best I’ve had) or Cambodia, and so on. Since the culture in South Asia is to eat with the hand, I would have thought that advertisers would push something handheld, but maybe that’s the next part of the ad campaign (this is not an advertisement for any brand). In the U.S., instant noodle is sold in cups making it easily handheld and easily eaten with a fork. Many other ways to eat the ramen noodle and 27 of those ways are here. One way not mentioned here is wrapped around prawns and deep fried like at Goong.

Why are instant noodles so good even if they are not good for us? It’s “umami” which is the Japanese word for that something special that makes food so delicious.

Umami making in Cambodia.
Umami making in Cambodia.

Deep and Superficial in Cambodia

One of the many visual delights of Angkor Wat.
One of the many visual delights of Angkor Wat.

Cambodia may well be the next Asian tiger with its combination of world heritage sites, tragic history, burgeoning business recovery (everything in dollars and riel), and hands on service industry. I recommend visiting the killing fields, not so much for the site itself (there are many all over Cambodia) but because the audio tour is well informed and one of the most humane. The narrator makes you aware of the past plus kindly asks you to contemplate humanity and how to be humane to it.

The depressions of the killing the fields with the stupa in the distance.
The depressions of the killing the fields with the stupa in the distance.

Then go to Angkor Wat and think about the wonders of what people can build in the jungle. The place is worth seeing at dawn or sunset. It will be hot at almost anytime you visit. It costs $20 to get in and that’s not bad for a world heritage site.

Stir fried instant noodles for $1. These stalls move all over town. A meal for a buck!
Stir fried instant noodles for $1. These stalls move all over town. A meal for a buck!

The town of Siem Reap (Siam Conquered) is very touristy but if that’s what you want, then go for it! There are still enjoyable things to be had. The dollar massages are still done well, the fruit with chili salt is still refreshing, noodles for a dollar (seems like it all costs a buck) are still greasy and yummy, the shopping still good (though not as cheap as to be dirt cheap). Surprisingly the prices are not as low as you might expect. A pair of “hammer pants” or ali baba pants cost $7! (I bargained down to $4). It is not expensive but not the prices expected. Everything is quoted in U.S. dollars but the locals can give you change in both dollars and riel, or a combination of both.

The night market in Siem Reap. Very geared for tourists.
The night market in Siem Reap. Very geared for tourists.

The Khmer people are graceful, sweet, and affectionate. Visit Cambodia for the people.

This little girl hacked away happily at this coconut with her machete.
This little girl hacked away happily at this coconut with her machete.