We had dinner at Romdeng the other night. Famous for the eight legged addition to it's menu the eatery is a teaching restaurant, like Jamie Olivers 'Fifteen'. It is a part of the non profit, non government, non denominational organisation Mith Samlanh (meaning 'Friends' in Khmer). It helps provide about 2000 kids an education and vocational training in trades such as hairdressing, mechanics, electronics, welding, the design and creation of products for the Friends shop and training in all aspects of the restaurant trade. The training workshops are designed as income generating businesses. Have a wee look at their website and some of the funky products they make.
The students of the restaurant begin their training, back at 'Friends', in the schools canteen learning basic cooking and serving skills. Then they move on to Romdeng and finally to 'Friends Restaurant' on street 13 not far from the museum.
Romdeng, a lovely airy villa on street 174, has a menu of about 40 odd traditional cambodian dishes.
With kids and a fish eating vegetarian (me) at the table we ordered a variety of dishes to share including the spider starter and prahok, a fermented fish paste that is Cambodia's version of stinky ripe gorgonzola or Samoa's fermented breadfuit. I had tried to order prahok before but we were eating with our driver that night and he was adamant I would not like it. I should have known better. Most Cambodian food I have tasted is rather bland in flavour and I am definately a stinky cheese person. I crave strong flavours. The prahok came in 3 slightly different variations none of which I found particularly pungent but it was still tasty enough to order again. The spiders, too, were edible, rather like eating skinny fries with no expected squelch, pop and goo as I bit into the body.
Eating fried tarantulas as a snack in Cambodia is said to have begun during the reign of the Khmer Rouge during the 70's when a lack of usual food drove people to try alternatives such as field rats, crickets and spiders. The tarantulas, 'a-ping' in Khmer, that are eaten, come from Skuon in Kampong Cham province and are devenomed and fried to a blackened crisp.
For Cambodians these spiders are not just eaten for their taste but also for their reputed medicinal qualities. They are said to cure a cough, back ache, lung problems and have a positive affect on male sexuality.
Up the stairs inside the two storey villa is an exhibition, 'Lizards, Barks & Fragrances', of Cambodian spices, small animals and their presumed remedies, which runs until Dec. 10th.
Bats are said to help with respiritory ailments too. Tumeric has anti inflamatory qualities as does its ginger like cousin, galangal, which is also taken for nausea, flatulence, dyspepsia, rheumatism, catarrh and enteritis. It also possesses tonic, aphrodisiac and antibacterial qualities. The knobbly skinned Kaffir lime is traditionally used medicinally to clear the head and cleanse the skin. Its scent is believed to lift spirits as well as relax and its juice is highly astringent.
We slowly made our way through the table load of dishes we had ordered including a Muslim Beef curry, Taro and Pork spring rolls, Three colour Pomelo salad with shrimp, Green Mango and Banana flower salad with dried shrimp...yum!
There were also desserts but we have always been so full from main courses that I'm afraid we have yet to savour a Romdeng dessert. Some of the appetising seductions offered are, crispy rice flake dumplings stuffed with banana and palm sugar syrup, red sticky rice porrige with coconut and longans, red bean and banana ice cream, homemade coconut sorbet as well as ever changing weekly specials.