Greece is the word

We don’t sit still for long. We’ve only been in London a couple of months, and I’m already feeling my feet start to itch. I’m plotting a road trip in France, a weekender in Berlin, and maybe even a stint on the slopes. (Let’s hope the freelance cheques start rolling in soon then, yeah?)

But I knew that after moving back to this side of the world, my first port of call (quite literally) would be Athens, to see my big sis Sarah. Partly because I haven’t seen her in two years, and partly because she’d have bated me if it wasn’t.

Not content with simply sorting a date with her and booking a flight, I decided to rope in some partners in crime in my Mam, my Dad and Marko, and we hatched a plan with my sister’s boyf Dimos. Two weeks ago, we rocked up her driveway, knocked on her front door, scared the bejaysus out of her, and a stream of profane consciousness ensued.

It was marvellous. I love nothing more than surprises (when I’m in on it, of course) and if you know my sister, you’ll know she likes to be involved. She loves the run-up to big events, and she’s the best hype-girl when it comes to getting everyone excited. So I did feel (a tad) bad about depriving her of that part. But I loved how well Dimos took to all the plotting, and I was thrilled that my parents were so game to take a trip all the way to Greece via London.

Our family has had something of a turbulent year; this month marks a year since my Mam was diagnosed with cancer. My mam and dad have been rockstars over the past twelve months, and now she’s on the mend, I think that should be celebrated. And what better way than a family reunion?

It sounds strange to say out loud that I hadn’t seen my sister in two years (apart from an all-too-brief 12 hours we crossed paths in Dublin last year) but I guess it’s a credit to Skype that we didn’t really feel it. But of course, no interweb catch-up can make up for memory making and photo taking, so we did a lot of that.

Near hourly photoshoots, an inflatable banana fight, 80s-style packed car journeys, six attempts at a Kris Kindle, a shopping spree in a pound shop, wine, cheese, cake, more wine, more cheese and more cake, and a late night (and rather tipsy) debate about why I wasn’t allowed to go to Syntagma Square. We climbed the Acropolis and we had a paddle in the Ionian Sea.

It was all too short, but it was pretty magic. The food is incredible, the bars are very cool, and the parts of the city I saw were beautiful. I can’t wait to go back and explore a little further, but for now, here are some pics.


 

Advertisements

This Little Piggy Went To The Market

Bad news: I’m a pants blogger. Good news; it’s because I am getting lots of paid work, so unfortunately the blog has had to take a back seat for a while. As I grow steadily better at the ‘ol time management though, I’ll hopefully master doing both.

In the meantime, here’s a picture post with some snaps from Psar Leur, I can’t remember what the name means but something like “main market”. It’s the biggest market in Siem Reap and sells absolutely everything from bread and vegetables to gold and fabric or shampoo and toys. It’s ma-hoo-sive. I absolutely love going to the markets here because despite the smell (just avoid the meat section) it’s the best place to really soak in Cambodia. Living in a nice apartment, online all day, mostly eating and drinking in places surrounded by other Westerners, it’s easy to forget where you are.

My favourite moments here are the ones where I look up and think, “Jesus, I’m in frickin Cambodia.”

Narrow walkway at the back of Psar Leur

Baby mandarins, absolutely gorgeous and about 75c for half a kilo (and that's the "barang" (Westerner) price)

"Fresh" has a whole new meaning; these chickens are tied down but still alive

...And here's some they made earlier

This is how a tin of Heinz looks in Cambodia

Locally made baskets

Swapping some English for Khmer with a pair of lovely gents from a fabric stall

My button obsession had a bit of a meltdown with this one

Beads; Cambodians love a bit of bling

I think these are bird feeders, lots of Khmer houses have them hanging up outside

Mushrooms, lentils, and what looks like jerky

This place has everything

The Khmer version of a butcher's shop

Live crabs

This slippery fish made a last leap for freedom. Alas, he was swiftly caught again and chucked back into a bucket with his pals

Fish laid out in the sun to dry

Piles of rice; the price of which has soared since recent flooding

Baby bananas, you can't seem to get the full sized variety here

Pumpkins; smooth and orange is out, green and wrinkled is in

The lovely stall I got scammed at - somehow paid a dollar for a carrot and an onion

And all that is just outside, here's what the inside of the massive building looks like

So comfy and only a dollar a pop...really have to work out a way of sending some to Ireland

Carnivorous Feast *veggies look away now

The other week I ate five different meats for dinner. Oddly the chicken was a bit gross.

After months of passing them in every second tourist restaurant in town, we figured we’d try out the traditional Khmer Degustation Barbecue. A metal steam plate is placed over hot coals in the center of the table, there is stock around the sides in which you cook noodles and vegetables, while the meat is cooked on a raised part in the centre.

It all starts with a hole in the table

Pork fat in the middle - gross but delish

We choose to dine at the aptly named Cambodian BBQ on The Alley. It’s a bit swankier than the other barbecue joints, but the food always smells good as you pass, and it’s always pretty busy which tends to be a good sign, even in a tourist town like Siem Reap.

For about $15 we chose five meats and got all we could eat of the noodles, steamed rice and vegetables. We went for snake, crocodile, ostrich and then beef and chicken -just in case the rest didn’t go down so well. There was also the option of goat, frog, pork, prawns and squid – being so far from the sea though, we tend to stay away from seafood around town (especially the generic “river fish”, if you saw the colour of the river, you’d know what I mean; kind of like the Liffey minus the trolleys).

All-you-can-eat crunchy veg

Dipping sauces on the side

Accompaniments boiling in the broth

A waiter comes over first to help you get started. He chucks the noodles and vegetables to cook in the stock then asked us which meat we’d like to try first. We opted for the croc. Though giving it was flooding and there were lots of rumours of crocodiles escaping from the many farms around town, I was a little worried that this was the definition of bad karma. But hey, you have to try these things at least once, even if it does get you comeuppance-attacked on the way home.

He dutifully dipped each piece in some egg-yolk and left it to sizzle over the coals.

The crocodile before I chowed down

The crocodile was really tasty, a pink meat it had a bit of a bacon hue (though that might be attributed to the mound of pork fat it was cooking in) it was tender, not gamey-tasting at all, definitely something I’d try again.

We went for the chicken next, just to break things up, unfortunately it wasn’t the best part of the bird – but we’ll put that down to more elaborate fare being the restaurant’s specialty.

Next up was the Ostrich. Cambodia doesn’t strike me as an Ostrich-suitable habitat though, so I’m not sure how “native” this one was. Nonetheless, it was delicious, I think my favourite of the night; I was expecting something like turkey, but the red meat is like a really nicely marinaded piece of fillet beef, tender, light, but packed with flavour.

I didn't know birds could have red meat

We decided we’d finish with the beef, just in case the snake was awful and we needed to get the taste out of our mouths. But in fact it wasn’t so awful. The closest thing I can pair it to is a chewy pork chop. Though by the time we’d reached our fourth and fifth meats, we were on our own. The waiter had abandoned us, and given we’d never cooked snake before, it may have been overdone. Some parts were quite tasty, others too elasticated to eat. Perhaps snake is like squid, it needs to be cooked just right or the texture and taste are ruined?

This was the one that got to me the most though, the one I could actually picture as a living creature, slithering about. Picturing my dinner in a field is something I, as a guilty meat-eater, try exceedingly hard not to do. Lamb anyone?

Snake...looks good enough to eat

All in all it was a pretty awesome dinner. While it was pricey by local standards I loved the novelty of watching it cook and I’m sure we’ll head back if we have visitors throughout the year. I also think those kind of meals are great for helping you digest, as there’s a gap between each “course”.

For me trying new food, as much as I enjoy expanding my palate, is more about the bragging rights than anything else. I can now scratch snake, ostrich, crocodile and beetle* off the bucket list. Next up tarantula, and by the end of the year, I might have been ballsy enough to sample one of the fertilised duck eggs they sell all over town.

More off my culinary bucket list

Can you spot the fried intestine with ants? Maybe some day...

*I ate one of these suckers at the Baray a couple of months ago, feel itchy just thinking about it, but it was actually pretty good.

One Cambodian dish I won’t be trying is dog. I know it’s an animal like all others, but I hope to own one some day, and I want to be able to look it in the eye.