Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Cambodia Connections- I

Bicycling in the streets of phnom penh, one can sense so much similarity to southern indian places. Being a foodie, my eyes and interest obviously stick to those things I value primary. Like the vegetable market especially… loaded with tropical stuff, even some of those rare fruits amd vegetables that have been our childhood nibblers!

I have tried to capture some… let us enjoy it together!

I gave the title ‘The Cambodia Connections’ and also suffixed with ‘I’. There is an ocean of many more things that would follow in future posts, that could be categorised under the same title.


Kothumalli/Coriander is available in plenty. But more than the green, fresh coriander, what attracts the most is the way it has been clipped beautifully with the cut palm leaf or something else I am yet to find out! We call it Kothumalli Kattu is Tamil – it means tied coriander bunch.

the beautiful bunch




Nellikkai/Gooseberry is one of those summer delights which is a sour fruit and when one has a glass of water after, it sweetens ones taste buds.

The health benefits of gooseberry –

enhances food absorption, balances stomach acid, fortifies the liver, nourishes the brain and mental functioning, supports the heart, strengthens the lungs, regulates elimination, enhances fertility, helps the urinary system, is good for the skin, promotes healthier hair, acts as a body coolant, flushes out toxins, increases vitality, strengthens the eyes, improves muscle tone and it acts as an antioxidant.

While Nellikkai is available in the markets and vendors in bicycles – the packet of salt and red chilli powder that comes with the pack made me feel at home truly….. that’s the way we have our raw fruits like mangoes, guavas and gooseberries.

nellikkai with salt and chilli




also known as  – Guamachil, Manila Tamarind, Kodukkai Puli/Kodi-kai puli, Sweet Tamarind, Thai-Sweet Tamarind, Madras Thorn, Monkey Pod, Jungle Jilebi, Bilayati Imli, Seema Chintakayalu (Foreign Tamarind), Kona Puliyankai (Twisted Tamarind)


Now, I had been searching this for a long time… in Chennai whenever I go on a holiday. But not been able to find it.  This used to be one of our childhood nibblers (if I could call them so) sold out of the school in Thoothukudi. Myself and my cousin who used to come out of school would buy kodukkappalli and nellikkai and munch back home! It is called Kodukkapuli in Tamil and we used to call it kodukkappalli colloquially.

The sweet soury taste still lingers in my tongue.. with some sweet memories too!

the twisted tamarind


I could find some interesting facts on this fruit from –

Kodukka puli came from the word Kodi-Kai puli which means Vined Tamarind
* peel the black seeds to reveal a brown coating (not the white ‘main’seed inside) and then string them into bracelets
* The pod/pulp is widely used in the tanning industry. Camachile bark used almost exclusively by Filipino tanners
* Used as good timber
* Mucilaginous gum
* Used for preparing yellow dye


The Manila tamarind fruit is low in calories, and including it in your diet can help you meet your daily fiber, vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium needs.

It promotes normal bowel movements, controls hunger and lowers your risk of heart disease.

It is also an important antioxidant, protecting your cells from free radicals, which can help reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.



The south of India uses more coconut in cooking. Buying coconut and grating in not a problem anymore. In the market, you choose your coconut and the vendor grates it in front of you. It looks like an indigenous coconut grating machine made from local items.. very interesting!

the machine


coconuts grated



Karumbu Chaaru/Sugarcane Juice

On a humid, sunny, sweaty day, a glass of sugarcane juice can provide instant energy. Karumbu Chaaru in Tamil. Karumbu is sugarcane and Chaaru means juice. In the streets of Phnom Penh, one can find these small carts/machines and the juice is sold in disposable glasses… covered in a small plastic bag – easy to be hung in cycle handlebars or be placed in water bottle holders in bags. There are also halves of lemon squeezed between the canes while they are being pressed… I think in India, it is also a bit of ginger added while the juice is pressed…if I am right.

The only problem is the glass would first be filled with icecubes it can fully hold and the other approximately 3 or 4 ladles of juice would fill the glass… great chiller ofcourse but solely due to ice. Pay double or triple and you get the same glass full of juice… but my sugarcane lady is very friendly though.. she insists I take ice in the outer bag and she places the closed full juice glass in the ice bag and we reach home with undiluted ice cold karumbu chaaru/sugarcane juice!

the machine


stored sugarcanes and the juice



It is truly a warm feeling of being at home!   An exploration of more cultural and cuisinical similarities between the Tamils and the Khmers! I shall try my best!

It is Tamil Puthaandu/Tamil New Year on April the 14th. The Khmer New Year called Chaul Chnam Thmey (means Enter New Year) is celebrated for 3 days starting April 13 to April 15.

Puthaandu Vazhthukkal! Happy New Year!

Suo Sdey Chnam Thmey!!

Varutha Meen, Varutha Kathirikkai with Thaalicha Paruppu/ Pan Fried Fish and Pan Fried EggPlant with Seasoned Lentil

the platter


Why not try this for a simple sunday meal or even a relaxed saturday meal? Steamed Rice – Thaalicha Paruppu with varutha meen – pan fried small fish and varutha kathirikkai – pan fried spicy eggplant!

Here we get small river fish – which my daughter loves when pan fried… but when cooked in gravy, it is a tedious affair to remove bones. Especially with an inexperienced, recently converted non-vegetarian mother like me.

Cambodia’s inland fisheries are the fourth most productive in the world given the combined capacities of the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and the Mekong River, where more than one million people depend on the fisheries sector for employment, income and food security.  Thailand is the largest importer of freshwater fish from Cambodia.

The fish is very quick to make and so is the eggplant – ofcourse the eggplant needs some cutting but the fish – might have been moulded the right size straight from heaven!

marinated fish


Coming to the platter – I just made Steamed Rice and Thaalicha Paruppu (quick-and-easy-thaalicha-paruppuseasoned-lentil) for the main course. As south indians, we always mix up the rice with the lentil or any gravied curry. And compulsorily need a side dish – be it semi gravy kootu(stew of vegetables) or a dry vegetable to have with the mixed lentil and rice.

Now enters the fish and eggplant as side dishes or accompaniment to the main course or the only course on a lazy weekend – lentil and rice. The marination can be an insult to true marination – as in the true sense, we sprinkle the spices and fry – but – a lazy day’s true treat – without doubt!

I. Varutha Meen – Pan Fried Fish



  • chiriya Meen/small fish – 1/4 kg (has appr. 25 fishes)
  • cooking oil – 5 tbsp (for frying)
  • gingelly oil – 2 tsp and curry leaves – a few for seasoning

to marinate

  • turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • pepper powder – 1/2 tsp
  • salt – 1/2 tsp or as per taste

Method of Preparation
  1. Clean the fish and apply salt and turmeric and leave it for 15 minutes. This is believed to help in effective cleaning of any fish before cooking
  2. Wash well again and then mix in the marinade
  3. To check salt, mix turmeric, pepper and salt separately and taste for salt and spice and then mix the fish in the spice mixture
  4. Set aside for a minimum 1 hour in fridge
  5. Heat oil in pan and place the marinated fish
  6. Fry till the fish gets the brownish glow and is crispy
  7. Remove in absorbent paper
  8. Heat 1 tsp gingelly oil in a pan – might be the same pan
  9. Add the washed curry leaves and fry
  10. Place the pan fried fish in a serving bowl
  11. Garnish with the fried curry leaves.

in the pan





II. Varutha Kathirikkai – Pan Fried EggPlant


Eggplant is very low in calories and fats but rich in soluble fiber content.  The peel or skin (deep blue/purple varieties) of aubergine has significant amounts of phenolic flavonoid phyto-chemicals called anthocyanins.Scientific studies have shown that these anti-oxidants have potential health effects against cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological diseases.

It contains good amounts of many essential B-complex groups of vitamins such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (B3).Further, this vegetable is an also good source of minerals like manganese, copper, iron and potassium.


  • kathirikkai/Eggplant – 2 no.s (I used the long ones)
  • cooking oil – 5 tbsp or a little more

to marinate

  • turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • salt – as needed
  • red chilly powder – 1 tsp
  • coriander powder – 1 tsp

Method of Preparation
  1. Wash eggplant and cut into 1 inch thick pieces
  2. Keep the pieces in water or the eggplant tends to darken
  3. When you are ready to marinate it, take out of water and mix the spices and leave for 15 minutes
  4. As usual heat oil in a pan and fry till done on both sides.

marinated eggplant


in the pan


Serve fish and eggplant with steamed rice and thaalicha paruppu. There is always Yoghurt at home and that helps to end the day’s meal with thayir saadham – that is just plain yoghurt and rice!

  1. The quantity of spices can be altered as per taste of the family
  2. Fish can be used with the head or without. I use them without the head
  3. A dash of lemon juice while marinating gives a wonderful flavour in both; or just add after the fish is crisply done.
  4. Lemon juice after the eggplant doesn’t suit much though.
  5. For marination of eggplant, sambar powder can also be used for even more lazier ladies (I do it sometimes)!

Call it a Simple Sunday Meal and why two dishes? Do some of you feel this way – just opt one per week! Sometimes I feel guilty when my daughter asks why is there a lot of empty space in her plate….. in search of more side dishes! Now, with fish and eggplant her plate was not empty!!

Why even cook the thaalicha paruppu/seasoned lentil? It happens my friend… tttooo lazy for anything. Take that Plain Yoghurt from the fridge… Have you cooked your rice atleast? Make Thayir Saadham/Curd Rice (thayir-saadham-mor-milagaicurd-rice-sun-dried-chillies) or just mix Rice and Plain Yoghurt on the lunch table. Enjoy with fish or eggplant!! A sumptuous meal and some rest too!