Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Jinx Is On

Not more than two minutes after posting that last blog Ryan surfaced for our usual 7:40AM breakfast excursion. However, this morning Ryan looked at me and said, "I think I'm gonna pass on breakfast. I was up all night with some stomach issues." The jinx from the last posting is on. That said, I just got back from breakfast with Vi. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, right?...but then again, the food could literally kill me (relax, Mom, I don't think it really can. Doctors Levy and Rudominer, any thoughts?).

Pushing My Luck In Cambodia

This is the stupidest thing I could possibly write but I'm going to write it anyway. In seven weeks of travel I have only taken Imodium once. Yes, once. And that one time was in Australia. So far in Asia, despite eating things which at least 50% of the time are a total mystery to me selected by the eeny-meeny-miny-moe method, I have had zero stomach problems. (My stomach just growled as I typed that...but i will continue).

I'm telling everyone this because it is a borderline miracle I have not gotten sick in Cambodia. On the miracle list, I'd put this right below the one canister of oil that lasted eight nights for the Maccabees. Since arriving in Phnom Penh, Ryan and I have developed a love of Cambodian street food. Now when I say street food, I don't mean some plush NYC style hot dog vendor wheeling and dealing the equivalent of frankfurters, knishes and pretzels. Street food here comes in multiple styles which can be broken down into the three meal pattern we've developed.

BREAKFAST: Ryan and I walk over to this corner "restaurant" where every morning we are happily greeted by the host who constantly speaks to us in French...which we shrug at just as much as we do at Cambodian. This restaurant is by far the highest rated place we go to. Basically it is a bunch of table and chars set up under an alcove with tarps and blankets covering about twenty five percent of the ceiling which extends onto the sidewalk. The food here is cooked on a cart with drinks being poured in an alley. Each morning we join a table of other breakfast goers and our spots are wiped off with a wash cloth that hasn't been cleaned since...well, it's probably never been cleaned. A tea cup of luke warm water is then placed in front of us which is used to disinfect the silverware which is sitting in a communal cup in the middle of the table. The process is quite simple: you take out the silverware, wipe it with a tissue from a tissue box, drop it into the luke warm water, let it sit for a minute, then re-wipe it with a new tissue. Clean as a whistle. I mean what germs could survive that, right? Our food is then brought to us which always contains some kind of marinated pork over rice with green tomatoes, cucumber and an egg (most of the time some dark black egg which I think has been pickled). We quickly devour the food using our spoon and fork like chopsticks. Spoon in the right hand, fork in the left. The fork pushes food onto the spoon and you shovel it into your mouth. This is how the locals do it. While eating it is best to ignore the flies that have taken a breather on your index finger....

LUNCH: Near the school is a side street where about a half dozen "restaurants" have set up. By restaurant I mean that people have set up tents on the sidewalk with folding tables, plastic chairs and little grills. This place would be closed in two seconds in the state for its unsanitary conditions. Literally feet from where we sit are piles of garbage. Underneath the tables are collections of bones and dirty tissues that prior patrons have spit out and thrown down since in Cambodian restaurants -- at least the ones we go to -- they only sweep once a day. At this restaurant the flies buzzing around you are the easy thing to deal with. The hard thing is the constant sensation that something has just run across your foot. Man, I need to stop wearing flip-flops.

DINNER: Every night we go to the Russian Market. It's a collection of food stalls with a variety of different Cambodian entrees -- few of which we can identify. Two nights ago we took the Languagecorps maid Vi (pronounced /wee/ since people can't say v's here) with us out to eat. She has since come to every meal with us since it appears she doesn't eat unless we feed her. Also, on a side note, she doesn't speak a lick of English which is really ironic since she lives in the house where people are trained to teach others to speak English. I literally taught her "cat", "father", "mother", "sister", and "brother" the other night. If you're asking yourself why I taught cat first it's because a dozen cats had gathered outside the house and I was ranting about how much I despise cats. Anyway, we took Vi with us and motioned for her to pick a stall. Big mistake. Seconds later we were sitting in front of what appeared to be a soup stall. However, when the food was promptly plopped in front of us it was just a bunch of noodles with a large chicken foot resting on top. And, uh, it was served cold.

In my head whenever I sit down at one of these restaurants I picture what it would be like if I was with my friends and family. In particular I often find myself thinking of Brett Goldstein and picture him saying, "Are you kidding me? I'm sorry but there's no f-ing way I'm eating here."

Anyway, I could go on for an hour and talk about the other health code violations that I embrace at every meal. However, I will just sum it up with this: There is an Australian couple taking the course with Ryan and I and they refuse to eat street food. They have been sticking to the Western Cuisine and when dipping into the local foods have gone to nice restaurants (by nice I mean $7 a meal). Well, yesterday, Kristen the Australian girl can strolling into class looking like death -- she had gotten food poisoning and had been puking all night. Lesson learned: it may appear dirty and disgusting but it's really like the frog prince. Kiss it and embrace it and you'll be rewarded....

Crap, my stomach just made some noise. I hope it was a growl and not a croaking parasite. Oh well, breakfast is in 46 minutes!