Friday, January 15, 2010

Eating Gluten-Free in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I admit I was somewhat terrified to travel alone to Siem Reap, Cambodia because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to figure out what I could eat that is gluten free. I special ordered some cards explaining what I could and couldn't eat in Khmer from Select Wisely and kept one copy in my pocket and one copy in my money belt.

I had done some research ahead of time by looking through some regional cookbooks. It appeared that I would be safe in general, but that some dishes might have soy sauce in them. Khmer cuisine seems to be similar to Thai and Indian food in the best ways. It features lots of fruits and veggies and many of the dishes have simple sauces.

I hired a driver for my first couple of days and asked him to help me find food in addition to his other duties. This turned out to be important because he could read the card and some of the food vendors didn't seem to be able to do so. My card was written in Khmer and English. I picked out items on the menu that sounded likely to be gluten-free and then he'd double check. I was only going to be in Cambodia for a few days, so I decided I'd just memorize my order and if I liked it, I'd eat that for the rest of the trip!

This didn't turn out to be necessary, but it would have worked. In Siem Reap, there were several Indian restaurants with familiar gluten-free staples that I could eat and then a fellow-traveler told me about the Cambodian specialty Amok, a coconut-based dish. Bad for the diet, but great gluten-free eating!

Also, a friend from Laos had told me breakfast should be no problem. One traditional Southeast Asian breakfast staple is rice soup with or without fish or chicken. Rather bland, but gluten free and widely available. Also, it was likely that I'd be able to find fried eggs, fruit, yogurt and steamed rice. This was all true. Also, the coffee was fantastic.

As far as eating on the street, there was plenty of fruit and I'd brought a pocket knife so I could slice up dragon fruit and eat it. There were some packaged foods available, but I was glad I'd brought some bars and single-servings of peanut butter which I ate on apples.

In general, I had much more success eating tasty, flavorful food on a regular basis in Cambodia than I do in the states!