Restaurant Review: Sher-e-Punjab

Phnom Penh I don’t consider a place of culinary delights. However, the city has its share of surprising options.

Sher-E-Punjab is a narrow little restaurant with a bar in the back as if it was originally built for a pub. It’s not surprising given it’s location right off the riverfront pub crawl. The dark red lighting coming through the glass front certainly doesn’t make it a place people enter based on appearances.

The food is heavenly. Just heavenly. You smell all the spices in the air as soon as you walk in. I’m one to try a different dish every time I revisit a restaurant. This place, I stopped. Nothing I had was ever bad but when one set dish particularly stands out, it would be a crying shame to not have it. It make seem like I exaggerate, but the daal is the best I’ve had outside India. Heck, it’s better than most that I had in India.

Daal. Not a particularly glamous dish, no. Rather plebian. It’s lentils. But I find it is often overcooked, too dry, or not blended well. So, while I love daal, I usually order it as a side dish. Not here. it’s my main and only dish. The nan comes in huge pieces for one order, making it more carbs that I get from a normal bowl of rice.

Maharani and handi are particularly week cooked here. The Maharani is a bit greasier but that gives it a more smooth texture, otherwise the flavour is similar. The depth of flavour is amazing.. even after swallowing, the spices tingle in my mouth. The cute little bucket it comes in is just icing.

All for 5 bucks.

recipe: khao soi gai

I realize belately I should share the recipe if I was going to talk about making the food!

Enjoy:

3                 shallots, chopped
3                 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp       red curry paste
4 cups      coconut milk
8 oz           chicken breasts, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 tbsp       brown sugar
1 tbsp       ground turmeric
1 tbsp       lime juice
8 oz          egg noodles

1. In a saucepan, heat cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring until brown. Add curry paste and cook stirring, for 2 minutes.

2. Add coconut milk and bring to low boil. Add chicken, reduce heat and simmer until tender.

3. Add sugar, turmeric, and lime juice. Stir and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring water to a boil.

5. Just before serving soup, add egg noodles to water and cook for 1 minute. Drain and split noodles to serving bowls.

6. Pour soup over noodles.
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The original recipe is from Linda Stephen’s complete book of Thai cooking, by far one of the most usable and complete cookbooks for Thai food I have tried.

BSO in the Park

Arts and culture is, in my opinion, lacking and lagging for a major metropolitan city such as Bangkok. A lot of it attribute to the more gaudy nature of its attractions. Nonetheless, there is a fledgling performing arts scene that is growing and can only get better.

The Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (thereby referred as BSO, not to be confused with an internationally famous Boston Symphony Orchestra from my hometown) reminds me of my philharmonic youth orchestra. But I don’t laugh at them. The feature Thai-born soloists who perform in the international circuits. And their ability to invite many international musical stars such as Sir James Galaway, Renee Fleming, Sarah Brightman and YoYo Ma serves as a harbinger for the orchestra’s potential.

The best part is their Concert in the Park, offered on Sundays in the cooler months of December and January. The orchestra performs in Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s smaller equivalent of Central Park. The free concerts invite the public to grab a picnic basket and blanket, and enjoy the music to end their weekends. The concept is not unlike the Landmarks on the Esplanade in Boston or the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage in DC. For a city/country that has little arts scene, it is a wonderful way to give the public an opportunity to develop and appreciate the classicals.

Below is a video of one such performance. While the orchestra is far from the international calibre, this kind of performance, blending popular music with an instrument of such old Thai tradition as the ranat ek is something unique and beautiful. If they keep this up, it may be worth flying back in ten years to see how their culture scene has developed. Apologies in advance for both the video and music quality. It was all I had in hand when I realized I should record it.

Taking control

I’m human. I’m not above ranting and whining about things that annoy me. As an individual fortunate to have the benefits of being an American and also of working and living overseas, I tend to compare. Why can’t they read and follow road signs like Americans?… This so would not be tolerated in America…

I try, in my fairer moments, to step back and put things into context. As much as my “It’s time to start packing” post was composed tongue-in-cheek, I usually come out of those moments of frustration and impatience by reminding myself my reactions are as much a reflection of me as they are of the culture I am observing.

I’ve learned over time spent abroad, both as an expat and as a traveler, that it behooves me, the traveler, to be brutally honest with myself. And to take control over how I react as a participant in the proverbial stage we call the world.

For instance, being irritated with the language barrier is not an appropriate response. Countries like Thailand have an old culture that predates the discovery of the Americas, with a language that carries as much history as it carries communication. Locals have their own language. Knowing English gives the person a business edge, but is not a prerequisite to succeed in his or her own country. As should be the case. The fact that they don’t need to speak English to survive tells me the country has its own economy, its own domestic market, instead of an over-reliance on foreign investment. That should be celebrated, not mocked.

Lately, I’ve taken extra care first to create the buffer between my judgment and my outward reaction and then to take the high road.  Say, I was shoved from behind in a crowd as I was trying to get out during Songkran. Old me could have gone as far as snapping my head around, glaring at the offender, and forcing him or her back a little. Or, depending on whether I agree, old me could have let that momentum from the back push against the people in the front as well.  New me no longer elicits a push either direction, but establishes a firm footing on the ground to resist the pressure from behind force a domino effect in front of me. I can’t change the pushing tendencies of a huge crowd, but how I may or may not further perpetuate that chain reaction.

Handling my reactions has been a lifelong learning exercise for me. I am by nature temperamental and impatient. I may well be working on it for the rest of my life. However, my ability to create that filter has improved with age. And more importantly, with experience. Traveling as much as I do, I find soaking in the exotic experiences are more rewarding if I make conscious effort to identify when my reaction is fair or not. I can’t stop the fact that I find some places uncomfortable, but I can step back try to pinpoint what guides my emotions and whether I can set those judgments aside to be objective.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lines

Nikon D80, f 5.6, 1/125, 35mm

Taken at the reconstructed Temple of Philae in Aswan, Egypt. The original one was on sinking island so the Government of Egypt succeeded in a huge undertaking of rebuilding the temple on a different island.

I’m fond of two things to photograph. Pillars and sunsets. Pillars always create an array of different lines for my composition. I’ve noticed I have the tendency to take my pictures a little crooked, a habit I’m trying very hard to fix, now that I am aware of it.

It’s all good until you see too much

I hope you enjoyed my slides of Songkran photos. Now, storytime.

Remember this little kid?

 

Ahh. So thirsty..

 

We were standing off the side in an unofficial no-fire zone, behind a food stall. This kid’s mom ran the the stall. Bored, and likely wanting to join in the spirit of playing with water, he started cupping water out of the water replenish barrel, dumping on (and mostly missing) his head. As we watched him, he processed in his mind that he was thirsty and started tilting his head back even more, with his mouth open.

Mom sees that and shrieks. Ahhhh!!! Don’t drink the water, silly pants!!

She hustles around to serve another customer. Kid keeps drinking. As he stopped just to play with the water, his sister (probably just three years older) comes by to play with him. She looks in the barrel, sticks her arms in. Her arm comes back out, with a little one-inch fish in her hand. Dead or alive, I don’t know.

From that point on, I was sure to keep my mouth closed as I got drenched.