Viva la Mexicana!

Posted from Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I had to do it! How can anyone blame me? One of my great thrills since arriving in southeast Asia has been trying the cuisine. I wasn’t always a very adventurous person food-wise. My joy of culinary experimentation only really blossomed in the past two years, but it’s been a growing love-affair for the past two decades, at least when I left the comfort of my mother’s house and my hometown. I was brought up on a basic meat and potatoes menu with the odd stir fry or lamb chop thrown in. But I knew little of international cuisine. At least until I moved to Toronto.

So fresh after having a sobering day learning of the genocide in Cambodia I decide to walk down to the Tonle Sap River area of Phnom Penh – a very happening district of the city I was told. I’m enthralled. I politely tell the tuktuk drivers that I’m walking and they leave me be. I pass no foreigners for some time and some of the locals look at me like I must be completely lost. I worry slightly. I’ve heard there are occasional robbings and assaults along the river and I am cautious to hold my purse and smile. Smile because I don’t want to be a threat.

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People of Cambodia, I’m finding, are kind and polite. If they’re not smiling they’re just going about their life and you are of no worry to them. I think they believe more than us westerners do that people are generally good.

So, my point! As I’m walking along the main strip by the river I am starving. I check out some menus on the curb-side. Did I mention there’s no sidewalks in Cambodia? Anyway, the menus are set out as tourists and people with money like to have them set out – so they can see what they may be getting themselves into. And I come across this Mexican joint called Viva! that serves both Mexican and Khmer food. I think – why not? This is experimentation still, right?

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I order a cerveza, the server doesn’t understand, so I repeat beer and then order some nachos. I could’ve had anything. But lame old me decides on super safe nachos for $3.50. How can you screw that up? Plus, everything else was about $5 and I’m still in cheap mode when it comes to food.

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They had pollo asada, taquitos, quesadillas, fish tacos, burritos and enchiladas, plus they had amok, tom yam soup, spring rolls and Lok Lak on the Khmer side. Of course there were margaritas and Coronas and mojitos, naturally.

My nachos had REAL cheese, jalapenos, baked beans, onions and salsa. It was all quite sparse, but I ate the shit out of it. I ended up chatting with a former airline pilot from American a few tables over (yes, he told me he was a pilot 😉 ) who had strong opinions on western women and why he no longer liked them. I quickly got my cheque and realized that as this man was trying in vain to explain to me that the ancient religions who kept women in chains may be on to something that I was lucky to be in such a free country. He was right about one thing. It is a small world and yet such a big world. Small enough that people like him can find a pocket to fill their niche. And big enough that I can avoid douche-bags like that – at least in the free part of the world where women aren’t put in chains.

I started to walk home and then agreed to pay a motorbike driver $1 to take me back to the hostel. Money well spent.

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