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Cooking lunch for monks on Koh Dach

An account of a unusual experience cooking lunch for resident monks at Wat Kompong Pich on Koh Dach near Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Last time we visited this temple – Wat Kompong Pich, Koh Dach we believe it’s called, (just outside Phnom Penh – we were kindly invited to lunch by the old ladies who were cooking food for the monks. They actually apologized saying that it was ‘only Khmer food and not ‘Barang’ (Western ) food since they didn’t know how to cook that. So much the better for our group but the ladies went on to say they would actually like to learn how to cook Western food – to a background of nodding monks!

Wat Kompong Pich, Koh Dach
Wat Kompong Pich, Koh Dach

So regardless of any concerns that we might not be able to follow through on a rash promise we gamely suggested that on our next visit we’d arrive a bit earlier and cook a ‘Western-style’ lunch for them ourselves.

Well on our recent return visit our group appeared well up for it so after a couple of phone calls to our Koh Dach contacts, (Chloe and Clara), the monk lunch was on!

Clara, left and Chloe, right - our 'guides' for Koh Dach
Clara, left and Chloe, right – our ‘guides’ for Koh Dach

Thoughts of shepherd’s pie, roast beef, Irish stew flew out the window when we realised that, of course, we’d only have a wok to cook in, (though someone even suggested doing them a ‘full English’!?)

Cooking Khmer style
Cooking Khmer style

Cooking was Khmer style – i.e. squatting on the ground frying on a wood fire and turning up the gas involved throwing another stick on the fire.

Jordan adding the final touch
Jordan adding the final touch

So it had to be something that we could easily cook in a wok, find all the ingredients for & that wasn’t too weird by Khmer standards for the monks to eat so, chilli con carne – perfect!

Jordan and Steve preparing lunch with the abbott in the background saying 'not too spicy please'.
Jordan and Steve preparing lunch with the abbot in the background saying ‘not too spicy please’.

The monks eat at 11.00 sharp so with time running short we got Choeun the tuk-tuk driver to do the onions and garlic and Clara took on the vital chillies. (One of my favourite Phnom Penh tuk-tuk drivers – friendly, helpful, reliable and never greedy – his number is 016 364 385)

Choeun - tuk-tuk driver and assistant chef!
Choeun – tuk-tuk driver and assistant chef!

So here was our chilli, and considering the cooking conditions and time restraints we were all pretty chuffed and not sure if they were just being polite but the monks all claimed to like it too. (Though we reckon they had all been really hanging out for pizza!)

Koh Dach. Looked good and tasted good!
Looked good and tasted good!

Despite Clara having put the entire pack of chilli peppers in it, the dish wasn’t actually very spicy – Khmers not having the same chilli tolerance levels as their Thai neighbours.

Koh Dach. Pretty good spread
Pretty good spread

The abbot and monks having eaten it was the turn of ourselves and the other temple workers and general hangers-on to tuck in.

The classic chili actually went well with the Khmer pork soup and spicy fish sauce dip
The classic chilli actually went well with the Khmer pork soup and spicy fish sauce dip

A good nosh for everyone concerned, a lot of fun and we certainly earned a few Buddhist brownie points with it. Also something a bit different to do and we reckon the sort of morning that you wouldn’t find on many Cambodia tour itineraries! Thanks to sisters Clara and Chloe for helping to organize everything, the extremely helpful and friendly temple cook who we confess to having forgotten her name and of course Choeun for getting us their and back and cutting up the bits no-one else wanted to do!

Koh Dach. Chloe, Jordan, the temple cook and Choeun
Chloe, Jordan, the temple cook and Choeun

After lunch, we visited the rest of the island, famous for its cottage weaving industry. Our Koh Dach day is part of our Beyond Angkor tour though in this case was a day extension to Steve and daughter Jordan’s private Cambodia Overland tour. Koh Dach – aka Silk island – is located in the Mekong River a few kilometres north of Phnom Penh City.

Cheers!