I have one mission for the afternoon: find food. Preferably, a meal which isn't comprised of rice, noodles, or mystery meat. While Tyler is hard at work in our hotel, I ride off in search of a market. On the way, I stop at each intersection to peer around the corners, remembering my choices so I can find my way back.
Heading into a neighborhood of dirt roads and closely planted stilted houses, I cause quite the commotion. Dogs bark, kids come out of every nook and cranny to yell hello, parents stare from their hammocks, and old women look up from whatever they're doing as if an alien has landed. Every head turns toward me, like a chain reaction all the way down the lane:
HELLO HELLO HELLO! FALANG FALANG FALANG!
Hello! Hello! Hello! I respond, my face ceaselessly swiveling from right to left to right to left. Suddenly, I feel very, very visible, and while I love the people here, right now, I long for a grocery store where I could shop anonymously.
I just want some food.
Pushing my bike, I walk through the street, trying to be nonchalant as I check out what each family is selling. I don't want to attract any more attention than I already have. Hmmm… nothing too promising. There are some greyish brown roots and tubers laying out in the sun, and some unidentifiable green vegetables. Nothing is exactly screaming delicious to me.
I've walked to the end of the road, and there, lo and behold, is the object of my desire: a shake stand. Just like I enjoyed in Thailand, this one comes complete with rows of pretty pastel powders, and is devoid of actual fruit. This is not a health food staple, but a sugary concoction with the essence of each fruit stripped away – condensed into its unnatural candy-flavored-counterpart. It's perfect.
I order a melon shake, and watch while the woman mixes up light green powder with sweetened condensed milk and a whole heap of ice. Two large spoonfuls of orange, yellow, and white jelly cubes round out my favorite treat. Hooray for small miracles. After I've paid, the smoothie lady kindly directs me towards the market, and off I go.
First stop, fried banana stand. Things are looking up! I buy a few, and then push into the market proper. While there is plenty of good produce for a home-cooked meal, there's not much in the way of a grab-and-go lunch.
"Hello! Hello!" the sellers say, pointing at their offerings. Do you want to buy lotus stem? Strange chives? Freshly butchered meat dripping blood onto the muddy ground? Eels from a slithering, flapping, splashing bucket? I shake my head, spouting "no thank you" as I go.
At the end of a cramped row, there are several bread sellers touting the same product: crusty, golden baguettes. "Buy my bread! Buy my bread! You want to buy my bread?" Well, yes, yes I would like some bread! "Five hundred, no, six hundred" one of them says excitedly, and I say "Okay sure, fine, here you go, I'll take two"
Carrying these two baguettes, I realize my dilemma. There aren't exactly stores around here that sell things like butter, jam, cheese, salami… anything I could actually put on this dry bread. We've had sandwiches in Cambodia that are served with pickled vegetables and some sort of pâté, or maybe duck fat on the inside? A duck fat sandwich just isn't appealing to me right now.
Taking stock of my inventory, I realize I haven't exactly struck gold. So far, I've slurped up a melon shake, and gotten a few fried buns and a couple of fried bananas. Oh, and these two little baguettes.
A bit more biking around leads me to an old woman selling spring rolls. But it isn't until she's gotten the entire family involved that I realize that the spring rolls aren't spring rolls after all. What are those strips of red, I wonder? Burnt julienned ginger? Shredded liver strips?
By the time they're all ready to package up some mystery rolls for me, I decide I don't want any. But they're all looking at me so expectantly, so I check to see what else is on offer, eventually deciding on what looks to be an omelette. Maybe we can put it on our bread for some sort of egg sandwich?
I buy the omelette, and cycle off, instantly feeling regret as I look at the wilty yellow substance pressed against the plastic. I don't even like omelettes; what was I thinking? Then I notice the long, fat black bug, cooked into the back of it.
By the time I return, I've been gone well over an hour, and don't have too much to show for it. Still, I lay the food out on the bed, and Tyler and I inspect our lunch. First, we each grab a fried banana. We bite into them, and then we adopt looks of confusion. These aren't fried bananas. They are some sort of banana-shaped fritter with sweet pickled cabbage on the inside.
It's not bad for a sweet cabbage fritter, really. It's just… not a banana.