Upon descending the Pinkuylluna Mountain, I met a middle-aged American couple who asked me if where I came out of was the entrance to the hill with the ruins. I ended up having an interesting conversation with them right there on the narrow, cobblestone covered street of the old Inca part of Ollantaytambo.
At one point they mentioned they had dined at Apu Veronica Restaurant located across the bridge heading out of town, and recommended the restaurant to me for some of the best food in town. So I made a point of heading out there and satiating my digestive system after the uphill climb.
Apu Veronica is, exactly as the Americans told me, across the bridge heading toward the fortress. It is located on the second floor of a building, but is well marked to make it easy to find.
I walked up and seated myself in the smallish restaurant currently catering to just a couple of people eating there. However despite being noticed by the staff, I was totally ignored for the longest time.
I proceeded to walk up to the counter and grabbed a menu out of there myself, thinking this would get the message across and a waiter would come to ask what I wished to order. That never happened.
The menu suggested heavily overpriced dishes, but whereas one of the dining patrons was a local, I knew they also had locally priced options. I found those on an individual sheet on the counter.
Called “Daily Menu“, this option offered a selection of a few pre-made dishes for 15 Soles which included a small plate of soup and a glass of Chicha Morada (traditional Peruvian non-alcoholic, sugar sweetened beverage of deep purple color made from dried dark corn). Compared to the dishes listed in the menu, which sell for upward of 70 Soles (over $21 US) per plate, these three course meals are hell of a better deal, but as a foreigner, you’re not supposed to know about them. That’s if anyone bothers to serve you in the first place.
Having figured out what I wanted, and having demonstrated to the staff that I’m indeed present in the restaurant and ready to place an order, I expected a waiter to finally show up after some 15 minutes of ignoring me in the restaurant with hardly any people to keep them busy. It never happened, so I stood myself up, walked up to the counter again, and called up a waiter to place an order there.
I ordered fried trout, but asked if instead of standard rice as an accompaniment, I could get a portion of fresh salad made from whatever veggies they had in the kitchen. The waiter said it shouldn’t be a problem, so I went to sit myself down at my table again.
As per the speed of previously demonstrated service, it took forever to finally bring me my order, but nevertheless, I got the trout exactly as I asked for. Compared to what I got in nearby Puno for half the price, this was a miserable portion of fish, but I was in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, so I took it as it was.
I went to Apu Vernica after descending the Pinkuylluna Mountain so I did feel like unwinding after the heart pumping uphill trek, which is probably the only reason why I stuck around. The terrible service with no reason to justify the insanely long waiting times was otherwise inexcusable. The food however, I have to admit, was tasty and the cook prepared it for me the way I wanted, so I feel like my review is at the draw as far as recommending or not recommending the restaurant.
Furthermore, unless you get sucked into ordering one of the hard core overpriced options from the foreigners’ menu, the value for money in Apu Veronica is decent. The food was safe and didn’t make me ill, so I’ll leave it at just that – Apu Veronica is probably a decent choice for dining in Ollantaytambo, but not if you don’t have whole day to wait for service, or are really hungry.
While still in Cusco, I told Maria whom I was going to meet in Lima, that even though at the time I’ve already been in Peru for 3 weeks, yet have still not eaten a Peruvian ceviche. Since we maintained contact the whole time on the internet and finally set up a date to meet up in real life, I thought it would be the perfect time to finally try ceviche.
Under normal circumstances, I take the masculine role in a relationship, but whereas I’m not familiar with Lima and she is from there, I gave the responsibility for picking up a suitable restaurant for my first time pure Peruvian ceviche to her.
She picked a restaurant called El Chef y El Mar, and it did not disappoint. Located in San Miguel where I was staying, the more upscale restaurant had the prices to match the quality and the atmosphere, but that only made the place more perfect for the occasion.
At El Chef y El Mar, there were several dished with ceviche on offer. We picked a platted for each consisting of two different forms of ceviche and a creamy rice with the calamari. I asked for my ceviche to be extra spicy, Maria went for medium spicy. It was delicious to the last bite. I could not have asked for a better place, company, and type of food to start my addiction to ceviche.
Ceviche is considered one of the flagship dishes of Peruvian cuisine, being one of the most traditional meals offered in Peru.
According to the Peruvian historian Javier Pulgar Vidal the name ceviche comes from the Quechua word “siwichi“, which means “fresh fish” or “tender fish“. One hypothesis proposes that the words Siwichi and Sikbaǧ were confused during the conquest of the Inca Empire by the Spaniards, which caused that it was transformed into the name with which we know it today.
Peruvians claim that ceviche originated in the Mochica Culture on the Peruvian coast, more than two thousand years ago. However Ecuadorians maintain the pre-Inca Empire people along the Ecuadorian coast used to prepare the same cold fish dish for just as long, claiming the origins of ceviche were not exclusively Peruvian.
In both cases, ceviche was originally being prepared by marinating the catch from the sea with chicha – juice that comes from corn.
Later, with the Hispanic presence, two ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine were added: lemon and onion. The development of the lemon farms in the lands helped to shorten the time of preparation of this ancestral dish.
Put bluntly, ceviche is basically raw fish marinated in soury, vinegar like solution. If you like raw fish in sushi, you will likely love ceviche.
From my standpoint – having come to Peru from Slovakia, where what is known in Peru as Ceviche is commonly available in its Slovakian form as “Zavinace” and purchasable from pretty much any grocery store for under a Euro, I was already familiar with the type of fish and had taste buds tuned in to it.
Ceviche in general is not the cheapest dish to eat, but a trip to Peru would simply not be complete without giving it a try in some proper restaurant where it is properly prepared.
Caution eating ceviche is however well warranted, as improperly prepared ceviche can be the bearer of bacteria that could seriously harm your health and screw your entire trip.
Fish used to prepare ceviche should be fresh out of the sea and should be eaten early in the day. As a way to honor this requirement, many ceviche restaurants close in the afternoon.
Concluding the First Date with Maria
After enjoying the wonderful triple dish of Peruvian ceviche for the first time, with our bellies happy, I took Maria to a billiard club where she played pool for the first time in her life, and then to a bar where we downed a few Cusquena beers. Late at night, we parted our ways after what for both of us was a highly fun and fulfilling date. We had one more day to spend together afterward, and we both looked forward to it.
The Port of Puno, located on the Lake Titicaca, is a safe and clean area full of shops selling handicrafts, and restaurants serving fish from the lake.
I popped into one to try local trout. I enjoyed fresh and pollution free trout in Papallacta, Ecuador, where it cost $6 US, so I wanted to compare how Peruvian trout compared to the Ecuadorian in both quality and price.
What I liked the most about the restaurants at Puno Port, was that aside from common trucha frita (fried trout), they also offered trucha al vapor (steamed trout). With the nutrients preserved better in steaming as opposed to deep frying, the trout “al vapor” is much healthier and tastier. Certainly a point for Peru.
I also liked that at Puno Port, I could choose from a vast array of accompaniments, including french fries, baked potatoes, steamed root vegetables, veggie salad, cooked corn, etc. In Ecuador’s Papallacta, trout came with accompaniments too, but they were always set to fries and a bit of salad, with no option to chose what I’d like. However, in Ecuador, unlike in Peru, the trout also came with a bit of a soup and a beverage. This part was a draw.
The Puno trout was beyond compare larger than what you get in Papallacta, and the overall portion of food on the plate was larger too. I’m a big guy and this was my first meal of the day after walking around the city for a few hours, but I could not actually eat all of what I had in front of me (I left steamed potatoes on the plate). This was definitely a point for Peru, as portions in Ecuador were much smaller.
Waters of Late Titicaca are however murky and full of waste from virtually every house in Puno and all other communities on its shores. Many parts around the lake stink like sewage, so trout from Titicaca is certainly filthier than that of Papallacta, where water is crystal clear with nothing around to severely pollute it. A strong point for Ecuador.
Lastly, the price for the plate of trout in Puno was 16 Soles, which was about $4.84 US at the time of my visit, making the dish in Peru a slightly better deal than in Ecuador. Needless to say, whereas that option existed, when I returned to have trout in the same restaurant again the following day, that time around I only ordered half the fish, which came at half the cost of 8 Soles (about $2,42 US). At that cost, I got about the portion of trout in Ecuador, making Puno a hell of a better deal overall.
While I enjoyed trout in both Papallacta and Puno, and would not hesitate recommending both for anyone visiting either place, I think despite all, I give this one to Peru, as the value for money is simply greater there. And that’s despite the fact that Peru is overall more expensive than Ecuador. It comes to show that good deal can be had even in pricey locations.
The purity of the fish in Ecuador, however can’t be beat. Unfortunately, the purity won’t mean a whole lot if the fish is deep fried in high transfat vegetable oil in the end.
When stranded in the wilderness, the most prominent concern of an unintentional survivalist is “what will I eat?” The fear of starving to death irrationally takes over from more rational fears. While each survival situation is different, truth be told – starvation is one of the least severe threats to a person in the wild.
As the rule of threes would have it – you can die in three minutes without oxygen or when bleeding profusely (making the need to treat injuries the #1 priority), you can die in 3 hours from exposure to elements (making the need to have shelter and fire the #2 priority, though this priority changes from situation to situation), you can die in 3 days from dehydration (making the need to find source of drinkable water your #3 priority, though this also changes from one environment to another), but it takes more than 3 weeks to die from starvation (making procurement of food one of the least pressing needs in a survival situation).
The rule of threes is well known to the survivalists, medical professionals and other people in the know, yet even though it makes the procurement of food look like a waste of energy when more urgent needs put one’s life at stake, it’s important to realize that even though starvation takes while to kill you, it will leave you weak both physically and mentally and weakened body and mind won’t keep a person alive for very long. Especially not when they’re on their own devices, with little chance of help from the outside sources.
Still, it’s necessary to realize that unlike water (unless you’re in a desert), procurement of enough food to keep you going in the wilderness is an ongoing struggle which requires a great deal of time and energy and needs to be repeated day after day. Water sources, on the other hand, are much easier to find, they do not try to flee from you and once a plentiful source is found, your hydration problem is solved, and it is solved indefinitely.
As an important note, I would only briefly mention that if you’re stranded in the wilderness involuntarily, signaling should be one of your top priorities and should be on your radar long before you even start thinking about procurement of food or water. Unless, of course, you do not want to be found – kind of like when I went into the wild.
My withdrawal into the wilderness was not meant to be a test of my wilderness survivalism skills, even though any stay in the wilderness IS, ultimately, a test of wilderness survivalism skills. Still, I went into the wild to seek answers to deeper questions, to reattach my connection with Mother Nature and to enjoy company of celestial beings, whose company can only be enjoyed in absence of men.
What I Ate in the Wilderness
Since I had a car at my disposal, I stocked up on food before disappearing from the civilized world. Freshly caught fish was to be my source of animal protein, but I brought with me a supply of dried organic pinto beans to use as main accompaniment with the fish. Aside from being very nutritious, beans are loaded with fiber and slowly absorbing carbohydrates so I’d never lack energy and wouldn’t feel hungry. I used beans the same way you’d use rice. I didn’t have salt or any other spices or seasoning, yet I found the taste of beans boiled in nothing but pure water as delicious as ever.
I also packed in a large bag of organic garlic, which lasted for almost whole three months. Garlic is packed with vitamins and contains compounds known for their antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. To satisfy my spicy tooth, a sack of Thai hot peppers was an absolute must have, unfortunately my spicy tooth made me go through them way too quickly leaving the resource depleted shortly after first month.
Another amazing survival food I took with me was organic almond butter. I packed in 5 large jars yet even though I originally thought I was being ridiculous taking so much of it, I went through all of it in less than two month. I started with two spoonfuls three times a day – after each meal – but after one whole jar went empty on me shortly after one week, I restricted the intake to one spoon after each meal. Still, I spent all almond butter long before whole three months were over. There is a lot of goodness and a pile of energy in every single spoonful of almond butter. I strongly recommend it to help with survival when one doesn’t have to carry their food in a backpack with them.
To further help keep myself healthy, I also packed in a huge bag of dried organic prunes (or dried plums, as word prune implies it’s a dried fruit already). This antioxidants rich preserved fruit makes for an amazing desert after meals. Problem with delicious goodness of prunes (which is the same with almond butter) is that they are so tasty, you can’t have just one. I had enough prunes to last me three months if I only stuck with one after each meal. I could not do that.
As a backup in case of emergency, I also brought with me dozens of granola and protein bars. I ate half of them in the first week and a half of my stay. The initial week was the most difficult time when junk food and sweets withdrawals kept me in a state of vicious torment. Diet composed of freshly caught fish, organic beans and garlic however made dealing with withdrawals easier and soon I found myself feeling so internally clean, a mere thought of junk food made me feel sick.
Positive Change in Diet
Cold turkey change in diet left a very positive impact very quickly. I felt much more energetic and healthier within first two or three days. The overall wellbeing of my physical body, just from this immediate change in diet was profound. I heard my body speak to me of how relieved it was having had the burden of awful diet lifted of its shoulder.
I wished I had access to fresh vegetables, as with them, I could make it even better, but alas, it wasn’t the case of this experience. I will, however attempt growing my own garlic, onion and kale when I withdraw into the wilderness next. I’ve been educating myself actively on gardening and feel ready to take this challenge on. I may even attempt to grow Enoki mushrooms which can be grown in small places indoors.
The biggest challenge with wilderness indoor gardening would be to succeed in growing anything at all in winter, when daylight is limited and temperatures extreme. I’ll give wilderness indoor gardening my best try long before winter comes and will rely on trial and error to teach me the ins and outs of it so hopefully by the time winter comes, I’ll have a chance to succeed.
I think the three months in the wilderness was the time in my life when I had the healthiest diet in my life and it did leave its mark. Falling back into the junk food craze was… sadly – easy. My reintroduction into the civilized world didn’t go without stress and peer pressure which resulted in my clogging the digestive system up with crap food very quickly. The crappier food I ate, the crappier food I desired and before I knew it, everything I gained in terms of overall well being with food I ate in the wilderness, was irrevocably lost. Can’t wait to return to the wild again very soon.
I am an advancing personality and as such I understand that the surest way to advance in life is by enhancing the lives of others. The trick is in the fact that there are two types of enhancements:
I take honest pride in enhancing people’s lives by advancing them with forward enhancements. A forward enhancement doesn’t care whether you make the receiver feel good or feel bad. Feelings enticed by such actions are always temporary and should come secondary to the higher purpose – the ultimate goal. Did your actions in the end get your target group to the desired destination or did you end up stuck with perceived added value? Do your actions offer temporary feel good experience which, like drugs delivers temporary illusion of positive feelings only to put the life in serious danger when the effects wear out?
The result of providing impoverished people with false enhancements is the dependence. Dependence is inability to provide for themselves and that is a perfect set up for a disaster. Let me give you an example – when I was visiting the tropical island of Langkawi in Malaysia, I was tempted to take a boat tour through the mangrove but ended up never taking it because all tour operators and all boatmen combined the tours with “eagle feeding”. Basically, tourists would be loaded into a boat which would head towards the ravine where wild eagles nest. Then in order to provide the tourists with an unforgettable experience, the boatman would throw the eagle soaring around a fish so the eagle comes within the reach of tourists in the boat.
Needless to say, all tourists would end up in awe, which is what the boatman wants because it fills up his pocket with cash. It’s a business I was not willing to support even if I were the only person in the world who would not participate in this activity. What this eagle feeding does, is that it causes dependency and dependency, as mentioned above is a very solid step towards losing the ability to provide for themselves. If this eagle feeding continues, the eagles will get used to the fact that each time a boat shows up, all they’d need to do is come to it and they’d get food. Day after day, their feeding ritual would change from catching their own fish into flying towards boats and if it doesn’t stop, eventually they would lose the ability to catch fish. Then if something happens (and that can easily happen) and boatmen can no longer come, the eagles will be left without food and with lost ability to feed themselves, they’ll die.
And this is what False Enhancements are all about. To a reality fearing mind, feeding eagles may seem like a noble cause. “Poor wild animals have tough time catching fish, so we helped them to survive, right?” I truly understand how some could come to such conclusions and seeing the reactions of the self righteous protectors of the Cambodian people to me instating the True Enhancements in Cambodia only confirmed how gullible much of the population is.
Two Types of People
There are two types of action takers, both sharing the same, honest desire to enhance the lives of impoverished people, but each taking a different approach to it. The types of people are:
Backward Thinkers – The Self Righteous Protectors who Help People By Providing Them with Fish Instead of Teaching Them How to Fish and by Attacking the Forward Thinkers for Taking Seemingly Unpopular Actions
Forward Thinkers – People Who See Past the Point of Their Noses And Address the Issue by Actions That Lead to Resolution, Even If They Cause Temporary Discomfort. Forward Thinkers Focus on Bigger Picture and Achievements of Ultimate Goals, Not Temporary Feel Good Experiences
Let’s take a closer look at how much each of the two types of action takers enhances the lives of impoverished people:
There is no doubt that the backwards thinkers mean well. In their divine delusion, they are the ones who step up and speak on behalf of the impoverished. They are in the front line when it comes to attacking people like me who dare to speak badly about the impoverished. They are also in the frontline when it comes to helping the impoverished the way the impoverished want. But where does this type of help lead?
Well, let’s take a look at Cambodia again for it’s a good example. Where did the impoverished people get after 30 years of assistance by the backwards thinkers? Yeah… 30 years after the end of the Khmer Rouge rule, and after 30 years of being given handouts on daily basis, the lives of average Cambodians have not approved one bit. I can guarantee you that if backward thinkers continue enhancing the lives of Cambodians backwards, like they have for the past 30 years by encouraging the culture of handouts and attacking forward thinkers for addressing the real issue and encouraging the real change even if it requires slaps on someone’s wrists, we’ll look at what has changed in the next 30 years and we’ll see nothing. Backwards enhancements, the ones practiced by backward thinkers set the impoverished two steps backwards.
30 years is more than enough to achieve a real change – for as long as the backward thinkers are kept at bay so forward thinkers can enhance the society forward without hindrance by the backwards thinkers. Look at Japan, for example. The country was destroyed after World War II and found itself in far more desperate state than Cambodia was after the Khmer Rouge rule, but backward thinkers were restricted from slowing progress down, forward thinkers were put in charge and 30 years later, Japan was an economical superpower. If what backward thinkers do had the potential to change Cambodia around, it would have already happened now that they’d been providing their assistance so relentlessly for 30+ years.
I cannot however deny the good intentions of the backwards thinkers. Sadly, stupidity, even if performed with the best of intentions is the core of hindered progress. A wise man once said that a hyperactive idiot is worse than the enemy of the state. And it’s true. In their bid to do good, backward thinkers rush into “helping” the poor while throwing roadblocks before the feet of the forward thinkers, ultimately hindering the process of enhancement. There is no bigger obstacle to progress than a dedicated moron who can’t see the forest for the trees and relentlessly enforces his/her own backwards agenda.
There is only one shortest distance between two points. And that’s the path the forward thinkers take. Not only does it lead to the finish, it gets you there faster than any other way. As a wise man once said, sometimes you need to lose the battle to win the war. That’s why backward thinkers can never be good generals. They do not have the ultimate goal in mind and focus merely on temporary feel good experiences. They’d focus entirely on winning that battle even if in the end they’d lose the war. Unpopular steps must sometimes be taken so the greater good can be achieved. Forward thinkers take these steps, even though it makes them unpopular in the eyes of the backward thinkers who would not hesitate to assault them.
Despite the looming threat of the attacks by the backward thinkers, forward thinkers won’t give in to their backward thinking and will do all in their power to move the society forward. Roadblocks set by the backward thinkers will ultimately slow the progress down (or completely halt it, in some cases), but without forward thinkers, we would have never gotten anywhere as humans. They are the ones who achieve real results because they are not afraid to think outside the box (Eppur si muove!) and take steps that lead to ultimate goals, even if it creates temporary hardships along the way.
While backward thinkers fight to alleviate poverty by encouraging and deepening the culture of handouts and attacking the forward thinkers for speaking up against it, the forward thinkers understand that the real problem lies somewhere else and must be addressed, even if it requires a slap on the wrist. Take inherent laziness of Cambodians for example. A forward thinker would tell the Cambodians that many of their problems are a result of laziness and would tell them to stop being lazy slacks and start taking responsibility for their lives. A backward thinker, on the other hand would instantly attack the forward thinker for saying things like that and would back Cambodians up saying that they have a difficult life and have gone through a lot, are still recovering from the past and need all support they can get.
Fact be told, the Cambodians don’t need any more support. They got more than too much of it for the past 3 decades and it got them nowhere. They need someone to kick them in the backside and tell them that in today’s information age everyone has equal opportunity to make decent living. Internet gurus earn upwards of 6 figures and can be found in India, Ukraine, Romania, Egypt, and many other countries. Internet creates a level field for everyone so the excuse of living in a poor country simply will not stand. The trouble is that because the internet provides the level field for absolutely everyone, the competition is rough as whole world, down to the last country you didn’t even know existed is your competition. As a result, in order to make it, one needs to work on it daily and constantly grow and improve. And that won’t work if you’re a lazy bum.
I have said it before but it must be said again: backward thinkers feel sorry for Cambodians, give them handouts and attack everyone who speaks badly about them. Forward thinkers tell Cambodians that they are responsible for their own lives and that if they are poor, it’s their own doing because anyone who doesn’t suffer a mental illness has everything they need to make it and have an abundant and fulfilling life.
The problem, as I have personally experienced, is in a fact that backward thinkers are such a loudmouthed congregation of delusional individuals, the presence and actions of forward thinkers are overshadowed and often suppressed by cocky backward thinkers who believe their poop doesn’t stink. As a result, forward thinkers often choose to keep to themselves so they don’t have to put up with the abuse by holier than thou backward thinkers which gives the backward thinkers an impression that everyone does it their way hence it must be the right way.
You don’t have to go too far to see what it does to their ego to have someone go against their religion, address the real issue and call a spade a spade. And imagine how much effort it’s going to take to undo all their actions to start enhancing people’s lives forward, not backwards. I tried in Cambodia, but the damage done by the backward thinkers is so deep rooted, it’s gonna be a major challenge to revert.
I knew that the way out of their misery is for Cambodians to obtain computer skills and market themselves to worldwide audiences on the internet. Regardless of how poor and deprived of opportunities they may feel living in their homeland, it all matters not once they get on the information superhighway. But there was a problem which goes back to the damage done by the years of backward enhancements.
Instead of listening to me and trying to learn a thing or two to actually achieve a change in their lives, the Cambodians I was able to argue into going to the internet cafe with me spent the entire time in chatrooms. Switching between half a dozen chat windows to waste time talking useless crap with random internet acquaintances was more appealing to them than the ability to learn something that could generate them an income comparable to that the people from the western countries earn.
Like eagles on Langkawi, Cambodians know that all they need to do is flock around foreigners when they come to sight and they’ll get stuff for free. Why would they bother studying to gain qualifications which could land them with above average income if all they need to do is a bit of whining and free stuff falls into their laps?
30 years of pampering by the backward thinkers left Cambodians completely uninterested in taking charge of their lives. As I had said many times before, backward thinkers enhance the lives of the impoverished people backwards. They think they move them one step forward, but in reality they set them two steps backwards. They usually do that with good intentions but intentions are useless if the end result is backward movement. Had people listened to harsh, but forward enhancing words of forward thinkers, instead of attacking them, Cambodians would not be this used to getting handouts and unwilling to take charge of their lives on their own.
Things need to be called for what they are, without beating around the bush. There is no polite way to address a lazy person but by calling them lazy. Unless the laziness is acknowledged as such, no attempt will be made to overcome it and set sail for a change. Forward thinkers tell lazy people that they are lazy. Backward thinkers attack forward thinkers by calling them racist bigots for having the audacity to call lazy people lazy.
Cambodians are poor because even though they feel that there is a way out, they are unwilling to put forth the effort necessary to find that way and travel it. And the reason they don’t have that will is because over the decades, they’ve been pampered by the backward thinkers who enforced the notion that accumulating their own wealth was unnecessary. Forward thinkers knew that in order to set them off on that way, they’d need to be kicked down that road. Gently pushing them did not work. They were embedded in their lazy seats so tightly, it delivered no result. A mighty kick was necessary if the ultimate goal of following the road to self made riches was to be accomplished but backward thinkers would immediately step in and attack the forward thinker for kicking a Cambodian. How racist of a forward thinker, isn’t it?
What backward thinkers don’t realize is that the poor don’t need charity. They need inspiration. Unfortunately, actions of backward thinkers, if allowed to perform for a long enough time can kill people’s inherent desire to follow up after they’ve been motivated. When it gets to that stage, simply inspiring people will land little change. Harsh action is then required, oftentimes no lesser than a mighty kick in the backside or a pretty loud slap on the wrist.
Charity only provides the poor with a fish to keep them alive in their raggedness, or to make them forget that they are poor for an hour or two, but wrist slapping action can cause them to rise out of their misery and set on the path to a better life. Anyone wishing to really help the poor is hereby encouraged to enhance their lives forward, not backwards. It is not hard-hearted or unfeeling, as it is not racist or bigoted to bitch-slap an impoverished person if in the end it breaks their poverty cycle. Backward thinkers pity poverty, forward thinkers kick it in the arse. Which one are you?
My initial days in South-East Asia were accompanied with excitement. Not only am I a big fan of Asian kitchen, it was also encouraging to see that I could buy a complete meal for some $3 in Cambodia. I have a stomach of steel that doesn’t get easily upset, but when I realized that I will be eating homemade, cooked food for the next little while, I started looking forward to significantly improved health. Swapping canned dishes and junk food from fast food restaurants with cooked, restaurant-style meals is bound to positively affect my overall health, right? Well, that’s what I thought.
That’s why it shocked me when shortly after arriving to Cambodia I started experiencing severe stomach pains. My stomach, which handled most dubious foods in the past without a wink started giving me insane problems shortly after my initiation to Cambodian food. It was making no sense. I expected to start feeling better, not significantly worse. The cramps were not something I could easily ignore either. When a cramp got me, it delivered intense stomach pains as if I had an Alien trying to rip out of my innards. It would take a hold and not let go for good two minutes.
Search for Causes of Stomach Problems
I was really having hard time trying figure out what could be causing it. After more than a week of persistent stomach pains, I knew I needed to start looking for the reason that causes them. There was no way a simple change in diet could have had such severe effect on my digestive system. I knew there must have been either particular food or a particular drink that was causing it. I only drank bottled water and even brushed my teeth with it, so I didn’t anticipate the cause of problems originating from there, but I was determined to nail it down at any cost. I deployed the elimination method.
Each day I completely left out something out of my diet what I used to eat during my stay in Cambodia so far. If stomach problems continued even after elimination of that particular food or drink, I would go on to eliminate something else until it becomes clear where the cause of problems lied. I even suspected beer as I used to have a couple glasses every day but to my joy it wasn’t the case. I enjoy a good glass of cold beer so having to go without would be rather painful, but I guess I would just need to try a different brew which was not a big deal. I really couldn’t imagine beer possibly causing any stomach problems, but I needed to be sure so I tried. Luckily, it wasn’t the beer that cause my stomach problems.
Food Additives and Stomach Problems
As I kept moving forward with my experiment, it became clear that this was strictly food related and nothing I was drinking was causing the problems. However, it also became clear that it’s not just general food, it’s something added to the food that causes it. I could for example eat Cambodian Lok Lak dish and not get cramps from it, but if I ate Cambodian Amok Fish, the cramps would be there. However, grilled fish with rice caused no problem at all. It was not fish, it was not rice, it was not vegetables or fruit and it was not other meat. So what was it?
I kept getting closer and closer to the answer but didn’t quite have it nailed down until the last day of Pchum Ben. I was invited to take part in the celebrations by the villagers from Sras Srang village in the Angkor area and it involved big lunch on the side of the moat surrounding Angkor Wat. Munchies were done the Cambodian way – everybody joined the food they brought with the food of others creating a feast of available dishes and everyone was free to load up their plate with whatever they liked. Since I didn’t have the kitchen in my room, instead of cooking, I brought a bunch of fruit.
Truly Cambodian Food
I followed the example set by the villagers who gathered round for the lunch and put a little bit of every dish available on my plate. I expected the same or similar tastes I was exposed to in local restaurants so far but these village dishes were nothing like that. Each of them had a very overpowering taste of some bad seasoning that was defeating the taste of everything else. Fish didn’t taste like fish, it tasted like that seasoning. Soup with herbs didn’t taste like soup with herbs, it tasted like that seasoning. The smell and taste of it was so distinct and so unpleasant, I was having hard time swallowing anything but rice.
Even though rice was the only dish that was seasoning free, at least there was one such. It tasted bland because it was cooked without any salt, but at least I had something to put in my mouth. To my disbelief, villagers also brought extra bags of that seasoning that each of the dishes instead of plain rice already had too much of and kept adding spoonfuls upon spoonfuls of it to the mix on their plates. It was a white, powdery substance similar in look to sugar but smelled horribly and made food that contained it taste like crap.
I asked what the substance was and was told that it’s a seasoning they always add to food because it makes it taste much better. I picked up one of the bags and through a bunch of Cambodian script writing I was able to distinguish a few words in English – MonoSodium Glutamate.
This discovery of MSG was a key point that eventually lead to the elimination of my stomach problems. It was just shocking to see how Cambodian villagers think MSG was the best thing since sliced bread and can’t imagine their lives without it. Local shops that specialize in business with the locals sell more MSG than anything else and have shelves full of it, usually placed at the most prominent location of their store. So much love for such a bad thing.
As big fan of Asian food, I could not wait to have my first Asian meal in an Asian country. Sure, I did have my authentic Korean dish aboard Korean Air flight from Vancouver to Seoul, but I wasn’t quite in an Asian country yet. Now I was – Siem Reap in all its glory.
Since there was no buying for me at the Center Market, I continued on, told 500 other Tuk Tuk drivers that I was fine and didn’t need any ride, weed, cocaine, bum bum (that’s what they call the act of fornication) or anything else and turned left on Sivatha Bulevard, which appeared to be the main street in Siem Reap, according to the map in the Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide. The map also suggested that there was a high concentration of stuff to the left which is why I turned there, instead of heading right.
There is a large corner building that houses Canadia Bank, which had the sound of Canada to its name – my homeland. That’s where I slid to the 2 Thnou Street and followed along passing by a number of massage parlors, pharmacies and other shops. The thought of eating my first Asian food in Asia has driven me forward so I have disregarded all other, albeit attractive shops and focused strictly on restaurants. At one point I spotted one right on the corner of 2 Thnou Street and Street #8 and walked in to check the menu. I was immediately approached by the server who stood by my side as I was checking what they had for eating. Given information I have gathered from on line research, I believed that this restaurant was a bit overpriced so I excused myself, much to the disappointment of the server who believed I was a sure fish and followed up that Street 8 where there seemed to be one restaurant after another on both sides.
One that immediately caught my eye was called Khmer Family Restaurant. Not only did the name applied that this was a locally run restaurant with local management so my purchase would support locals, but the name also suggested that I would be eating local food, which would certainly greatly enhance my first dining experience in Cambodia. Khmer Family Restaurant it was. I stepped in, seated myself on a patio under the fabric roof as heat within the walls of an establishment without air-conditioning would be unbearable and asked for a menu and a $.50 draught beer they had advertised on the sign facing the street.
I was served by a beautiful Khmer girl and ordered Curry Fish with Rice. It was still early morning, but closer to about 8am by now and the temperature outside reached truly intolerable level. I did not want to know what it’s going to be like during mid day hours. As I was sitting on a patio close to the street, I was being repeatedly approached by street people. Little girl – could not have been more than 6 years came to beg me to buy a bracelet from her. Realizing these kids are trained to play with tourists’ feelings and used as easy tools to get money from otherwise refusing foreigners, I stood my ground and respectfully declined. Afterall, weight of my luggage was enough of a burden as it was. Adding to it with keepsakes was not an option by any stretch of imagination.
Kids kept coming. Both boys and girls, couples and groups, selling t-shirts, postcards, guide books, scarves, and everything else that can be sold. I was approached by someone twice a minute. Victims of landmines were the most difficult to turn down. Those people miss limbs, some miss parts of their chest or several limbs. Many don’t speak English and bear signs with well tailored sales copies that will hit the sympathy nerves of even the hardest to break individuals.
I remember that one guy coming with clutches bearing a box tied to his neck and a sign in his hand which said that he’s not begging, only trying to work which is hard now that he’s got no legs. So he’s selling guide books. It was extremely difficult to turn that person down, but I’ve only been out in the open for 30 minutes and if I already started spending on items I don’t need, where would I be in a week from now?
When my meal was served to me, my eyes started to glitter. The presentation was awesome and when I took my first mouthful, I was in seventh heaven. The curry fish was served in a bowl made of fresh banana leaves held together by staples (lol, that one part kind of spoilt it all, but still impressive presentation), and dose of rice was served on a side of a larger tray that housed both. It looked fantastic and tasted even better. My taste buds were having the feast of the lifetime. It was a delicious dish which along with draught beer cost a total of $3 US. Wow.
My first impressions after dining at the Khmer Family Restaurant were more than positive. I could not have asked for a better place to have myself introduced to the local kitchen and have my first normal interaction with local people (only Khmer aka native Cambodians work at the Khmer Family Restaurant).
Licking myself all over after finishing my meal, rejecting offers from dozens of other people who attempted to sell me something, then rejected dozens of Tuk Tuk drivers who pulled over just to offer me a ride somewhere after I’m done eating, hanging on tightly to my camera bag so someone doesn’t snatch it, I went to pay for my bill. I left a generous $1 tip, which is a ridiculous amount to pay as a tip, but given that my total bill was $3, my $1 tip represented a 33% uppage. That’s perhaps why that gorgeous girl who served me my breakfast was so surprised and asked if I was serious that this $1 was for her… Hmmm, even though broke, this dining experience at the Khmer Family Restaurant in Siem Reap made me feel wealthy for a minute.
I have tried many restaurants after this initiation to the world of Cambodian dining, but Khmer Family Restaurant remained my favourite for a few weeks. Given that this was my first dining experience in Cambodia, I was generally happy with my choice. An amazing restaurant with great food, fair prices and as I have discovered later – great internet with free WiFi for customers. I was about to become a loyal customer but it didn’t last very long. Unfortunately, being a Khmer run business, they don’t care much about establishing a loyal clientele and are extremely lazy so when something needs attention, instead of taking care of it, they’d laugh at you for their inability to resolve it.
For example, when internet wasn’t working, I asked if someone could take a look at the router thinking that it may need restarting, but when after 45 minutes nobody bothered to take a walk upstairs to take a look, I had to ask again which was responded to by everyone having themselves a good laugh that I haven’t had any internet access for almost an hour. When this unprofessionalism (not necessarily limited to the Khmer Family Restaurant, as it is the nature of all Khmer run businesses) got in the way of me requesting to have the cook stop adding MSG to my food because it was making me sick, I knew it was time to quit patronising this establishment. Not only would no one bother to follow my request to quit adding MSG to my dishes, they even had themselves a good laugh at me because it was their food that was causing my intense stomach problems. Needless to say, what started as a good relationship was swiftly ended when their true colors showed up. Unfortunately, this type of behaviour is typical of any Khmer run business.