Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Steamed Fish with Water Mimosa – Siem Reap, Cambodia

A mound of mimosa

Before I left my grandparents’ house, I asked my 21 year old cousin Srey Map what she liked to do for fun.  She told me that aside from school and cooking and cleaning for everyone at the house, there wasn’t much time for fun.  Of course, that just broke my heart.  Since I come from a home with a mother that proclaims that I have “too much fun and too much adventure! Not good!” I thought it was my duty to take her and my other cousins out for a night on the town in Siem Reap.  I should have told Srey Map not to mention this night on the town idea to her mom.  Because her mother is also MY mother’s little sister.  Despite being fearful of what my mother (who is on the other side of the planet in the US) would say after she was sure to hear about this escapade, I decided to go ahead with the plan.  In my defense, the girl is 21 years old and she has never truly had the opportunity to shake her groove thang properly. 
We started the night at my favorite restaurant, Golden Unicorn.  This place is leaps and bounds better than any restaurant on Pub Street at half the price.  Unfortunately, for most tourists, it’s virtually impossible to find unless you are familiar with the area or know someone who resides there.  Golden Unicorn is located in the center part of town, but you have to go down a random 4 foot wide ally that, of course, is not marked by any street signs.  Not only is the ally narrow, but with its deep red dirt in place of pavement, also looks like the surface of mars.  The alley has several large craters filled with pools of water, vestiges left from yesterday’s torrential thunderstorm.  On multiple occasions, I offered to hop off the motorbike as we enter the alley and walk to the restaurant, but for some reason, my cousin always insist that I remain seated sideways, in the middle of a cousin sandwich, as their little Hyundai scooter putters up, down and around each ditch, splattering and sloshing my rubber Old Navy flip flops as my legs try their hardest to balance themselves by summoning some sort of branch pose I learned in that one yoga class I took that one summer. 

Cheers to fifty cent beers!
Once we arrived at the restaurant, I decided to be Diddy for the night and told the waitress to keep the Angkor beers flowing.  Besides, with the fifty cent price tag for each can, it wasn’t that hard to achieve the big baller status persona.  That being said, I made sure that the flow was at a slow pace.   I knew I would never hear the end of it from my mother if her niece ended up puking in the Tonle Sap River.  Next, we ordered the usual - dried giant fried squid, pickled mustard greens, bbq ribs, and my favorite sour lemon chicken soup.  Then I told my cousins to pick something that I have yet to try.  They all told me to order the fish with water mimosa.  “Let’s do it!”
A half an hour later, in walked this monstrosity of a fish nestled under a mound of water mimosa leaves drenched in a thick sweet and sour sauce.  The fish with water mimosa, or Trey Knong Boeng Kachhet,  was served on a mini gas stovetop, so the sauce remained bubbly and ultra hot.   I wasn’t sure what to make of this dish, or what to expect, but I couldn’t wait to dive in.
I took my fork and flaked out a small portion of the mid section.  I gently laid it on my small appetizer plate, and then with my chopsticks, I grabbed two pieces of mimosa leaves and balanced it ever so gently on my white fish.   Then, I proceeded to spoon the gravy over the entire pyramid of meticulously arranged ingredients.  Eater’s tip:  if you’ve never had a dish before, do yourself a favor and make sure you make the first bite count! It is imperative that you incorporate every intended component on that fork.  Make the first bite (dramatic pause), the.ultimate.bite. Where was I?  Oh, yeah…what did it taste like?  The large fresh water fish (I was later informed by my uncle that it was of the Neptuna Oleraceae Lour variety, to which my aunt responded… whatteevvverrr mannnn, you don’t know) very similar to mud fish - white, firm, and a tad sweet.  The firmness of the fish and unabashed stickiness and sweetness of the sauce paired perfectly with the subtle bitterness of the slightly wilted mimosa leaves.   Coupled with an icy cold Angkor beer, I was feeling good.  After a few hours of laughing, eating and drinking, Srey Map was ready for stage two of family fun night in Siem Reap night--“time to dance!”
Fist pumping Cambodian edition
Half an hour and two tuk tuk rides later, we were at the infamous discotheque (I wish I can remember the name, just ask a local where the largest neon club is in Siem Reap).  I haven’t seen a dancing facility this large since my Crobar days in Manhattan.  It looked like an Atlantic City casino that took the wrong turn somewhere, equipped with a Grecian inspired fountain and lighted entryway steps.  In addition to the opulent décor, and since this IS Asia, the discotheque's top three floors were dedicated to karaoke.  
  In we went, and we were greeted with the most current Top 40 bump, de bump songs.  I’m in full rap mogul mode at this point and asked the waitress to seat us at a table with a view of the dance floor.   

Once we are seated, the waitress brought us more fifty cent Angkor beers and then asked my cousins if they were ready to dance!   Too shy to be the first one on the dance floor, I made everyone follow me to the center and explained what a Soul Train line was.  Then I showed everyone how to do my famous (okay, maybe only famous in my head) hit the nail on the head robot dance.  Eventually, I got everyone wiggling and grooving. It was a great night. 
A few days later, I got a call from my ma.  “I heard what you did.”  Ready to vehemently defend my actions with tears and a speech on the oppression of people, my mom continued, “Srey Map told her mom that she had the time of her life.  Her mom wants to thank you for taking her out and showing her a great time.  It’s not often she really gets to just have fun.”  
Well, I’ll be.   

Roasted Striped Bass in a Pond of Morning Glory

With the head and all. Keeping it real.

 I used a striped bass because it's a nice flaky, white, sweet fish that is absolutely delicious roasted.

Water mimosas aren't available (to my knowledge) in NYC, so I used morning glory instead.  Spinach would work as well!


Serves 2

For the fish

1 striped bass, 2 pounds

1 pound of morning glory
1 inch knob of ginger (finely sliced)
3 cloves of garlic (finely sliced)
1 lime thinly sliced
salt and pepper
grapeseed oil

For the sauce

½ cup of fish sauce

½ cup of sugar
¼ cup of tamarind paste (found in most Asian stores)
3 cloves of garlic (finely minced)
1 inch of ginger (finely minced)
1 tsp of corn starch
2 cloves of garlic (finely sliced)


1.       Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Thoroughly clean fish.  Stuff fish with slices of lime, garlic and ginger.  Coat fish with grapeseed oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with foil and insert into oven.  Set timer to 30 minutes.
2.       Fill a large pot 1/2 of the way with water.  Add a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of oil.  Set stove top to high.
3.       Wash morning glory, and remove any dead leaves and large stems. 
4.       Prepare a large bowl with ice water.
5.        Blanch morning glory in boiling water until bright green.  This takes around 3 seconds, then transfer greens into bath of ice water.  Drain, set aside.  Turn off stove, reserve seasoned hot morning glory water. 
6.       Combine fish sauce, tamarind, sugar in bowl
7.       Add two tablespoons of grapeseed oil in saucepan. Once hot, add sliced ginger.  Saute until fragrant and crisp. Set aside on paper towels. 
8.       Add minced ginger and garlic.  Once fragrant add tamarind fish sauce mixture.  Once the sauce starts to boil add a cup of the reserved morning glory hot water. 
9.       To thicken sauce, in separate bowl add corn starch to a half cup of morning glory water and mix until starch is dissolved. 
10.   Once sauce begins to boil again, add starch slurry.  Stir, turn off heat. 
11.   Remove fish from oven after 30 minutes (or until meat is white and flaky).  Set on platter, pour half of the sauce over fish.  Add morning glory on top of fish, add the rest of sauce.  Add fried garlic.  Serve immediately with white rice. 

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