Little bits of heaven

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These prices are in good ol’ AMERICAN dollars

Without much exaggeration, the gorgeous beaches of Koh Rong, a small island off Cambodia’s southern coast, are a tiny bit of heaven sent down to earth. Stunning stretches of clear, turquoise water, powdery white sand and an untouched, laid back, breezy vibe that soothes the soul and forces you to relax, are the obvious reasons you’d call this place paradise but really, the fruit salads are a big part of that as well.

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Delicious fruit and beautiful scenery

All along the main stretch of “town,” right when you get off the boat, vendors sell fresh juice and fruit salad, made with pineapples, mangoes, bananas, oranges and dragon fruit (that’s the white, seed-speckled one) chopped right in front of you. And the kicker? A huge heap of this perfect deliciousness costs only ONE dollar. One freakin’ dollar.

Koh Rong, you were downright magical. You and your crazy cheap fruit.

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Kids eat the darndest things

I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about kids or what they’re into these days. I don’t really hang out with many and the few that belong to my friends are still babies and toddlers. But I’ll tell you one thing, I learned all sorts of things about Cambodian kiddies in the two weeks I volunteered teaching them English.

One of the things I found most fascinating was the snacks they ate during recess. I’m used to kids at home eating candy and cookies, or if they have health-conscious parents, fruits like apple wedges, grapes and bananas. But not the Cambodian students I had. They ate all manner of unusual snacks and super sugary, brightly colored energy drinks (which for the record, turned the portion of class after recess a wild rumpus room.)

No idea what you call this thing-

No idea what you call this thing.

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Apparently, you pop out the little seed balls and then eat them. Yum?

A few times, the kids ate strange fruits purchased from bicycle vendors and the ramshackle shop across the street. I didn’t know what they were and the kids weren’t much help either in explaining what they were. The couple of times I tried what they were nibbling on, they were bitter or sour, and not anything I could imagine my 8-year-old self eating.

Spicy chili mango strips.

Spicy chili mango strips.

One snack I was able to identify was green mango, a tart version of its sweet, juicy, ripe counterpart. Cut into wedges and strips, my kids dipped it in a salt and chili pepper mix that made them pucker their little faces and fan their mouths from the spiciness. Again, how many little kids do you know that would pack ask for that in their lunch boxes?

Just another break time snack.

Just another break time snack.

One kid made me laugh one day when he pulled out a whole corn on the cob and chomped away at it during break. I feel ya, little guy, I like corn on the cob, too.

Another snack they couldn’t really explain— but I was able to figure out once I got my hands on it— was sweet sticky rice. Adults eat this too, though, and street vendors sell it from little push carts pretty much everywhere. Sometimes it comes wrapped in palm or banana leaves, or in the case of the little girl I saw eating it at school, in bamboo, which then gets peeled back and the rice inside pushed out, kind of like a Push Pop.

Sweet sticky rice

Sweet sticky rice… in Push Pop form

Travel’s great like that, in that it opens your eyes to all the things you don’t know, in this case not just what another group of people eat but what its youngest eaters enjoy as well.

Trying to beat the heat

People, I kid you not, the past two days in New York have been miserable, disgusting and infernally hot. Hair-matted-to-the-back-of-my-neck, sweat-trickling-down-uncomfortable-parts-of-my-body, clothes-clinging-in-unflattering-ways, face-shining-like-I-dipped-it-in-olive-oil kind of weather. Not kidding. I wanted to die.

And it’s not even summer yet! The official change of seasons is still more than a week away, and I’m already itching for it to be over (literally, this heat makes me itchy…and bitchy). To cope with the nasty weather I turned to a reliable cooling treat: ice cream sandwiches.

Coconut macaron with coconut and mango sorbet sandwich

Because I was in SoHo, where I now work, I hopped on over to nearby Francois Payard. I’d never been to the cute little patisserie before but when I read in a recent NYmag.com feature that they had some tasty little ice cream sandwiches, I was sold sold SOLD.

Brownie and vanilla bean ice cream sandwich

Instead of regular cookies, Payard, known for their fancy french pastries, uses rectangular cut macarons. Flaneur, who I asked to meet me (since an ice cream sandwich would never have survived the walk home), went the classic route and got the vanilla bean ice cream and chewy brownie combo, while I went with the slightly more tropical themed coconut and mango sorbet between coconut macarons. Flaneur’s was good, the creamy cold vanilla ice cream perfectly complementing the chewy chocolate brownie, but mine was exactly what I needed to pause my heat-related bitching. The macarons were subtle in flavor and had the classic, crispy airiness they’re known for while the fruity, frosty sorbet was refreshing and sweet.

Summer might not technically be here yet, but when it shows up, I’ll be ready— with ice cream sandwich in hand.

François Payard Bakery on Urbanspoon

On the road again

We had been driving down a hot, barren road toward the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza when there she appeared, quite literally like an oasis in the desert: a short, round faced, brown skinned girl sitting alone under a white tent, only a large cooler sitting on the table next to her. The hand-written sign on the gravel road said: NIEVES.

After breezing past her, we pulled over and turned back around toward the tent. A couple of minutes and a few dozen pesos later we were back en route with strawberry and pineapple-mango nieves, slushy, bright sorbets scooped into Styrofoam cups.

An easy way to make a good roatrip great

Like fun music and good company, snacks are crucial to a successful car trip, and those frosty, fruity nieves did just the trick. More like frozen blended fruit than just sorbet, each nieve in its modest Styrofoam cup was refreshing and bright, the pineapple and mango basically the food embodiment of a beach holiday, and the strawberry one less loud and showy, but just as sweet and tangy.

If I was that poor girl, sitting out there in the heat, bored and alone for God knows how long, I don’t think I’d be able to resist eating all those delicious tubs of nieve inside that cooler. Then again, no one would trust me with that job in the first place for that very reason.

When you need it to be cheap and greasy

I would love to hear the scientific explanation behind greasy food being so richly satisfying when you’ve been drinking. That’s a lie, actually. I don’t really want to know the science behind it because science isn’t really my thing. I rather just skip to the good stuff: the greasy food.

Recently, during a night out with friends, someone suggested getting something to eat after our first drink and before several more that were to come after it.

Mango chicken at Yamo: cheap, greasy and obscenely filling. Everything I look for in my drunk munchies.

“Well, what do you guys want to eat?” asked one person I was with.

“Something greasy,” was the fast and firm answer from someone else.

This night could’ve been any night, in that when is that not the answer?  I mean the above dialogue happened between two people I was with but really, I’ve had that same dialogue internally with myself. Sometimes when I’m sober, I actually want a salad, or some fruit, or a bowl of oatmeal. But after a few drinks? I want greasy pizza, street meat and Mc Donald’s.

On this most recent occasion, a friend had a better idea, (thankfully sparing us all from the golden arches).  In response to the request for greasy, we found ourselves at Yamo, a tiny, almost literal hole-in-the-wall Burmese lunch counter in the Mission.

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