Some weeks ago a lady by the name of Sarah emailed me out of the blue. Sarah is involved with a TV show called Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and she had found my address via my blog whilst searching on Google about Cambodia! She asked if i could help with some enquiries she had about Cambodia and some locations they were interested in shooting and I did my best to steer her in the right direction. A few emails later and lo and behold Sarah asked me if Leakhana and I would like to feature as the on-air co-hosts with Andrew whilst he was in Phnom Penh! Sure, why not!
We met up with some of the crew at a beer garden on Sunday night for a prelim briefing and they were a bit jet lagged after a 40 hour haul from Minneapolis. Patrick told us it would be very casual, easy and good fun but I could tell Leakhana was a little bit nervous about it all. Of course it is every Khmer girl’s dream to be on a TV show – especially one that features on the Travel Channel, Discovery and goes out to 70 countries. After a few beers and some beef, we bade them farewell and the next few days passed in anticipation.
Yesterday we jumped on our scooter at 5.45am and headed for Raffles Hotel where we were to meet the rest of the crew and as we arrived we were greeted by the sight of a huge Jaggeresque style coach waiting in the forecourt. Wow, I thought, they must really need some people to film this show! As it turns out there were about 10 of us all up but Patrick had decided to get the big bus because it was only $170 a day and easily handled all the equipment. As we boarded we were offered cool drinks and coffee but I would rather have been handed an electric bat because the mosquitoes had just about colonised the bus.
First stop was Takmeo market over the Vietnamese Bridge. The market was already coming alive and as we were wired for sound with tiny microphones, the gaggles of onlookers started to gawp. A quick search to find a dark t-shirt for me without a logo proved fruitless ( apparently white reflects the light and makes the camera work hard and logos are a sponsorship minefield so my white UFO surfboards t-shirt was presenting issues ) and in the end, the affable Andrew said “what the heck with the shirt” and we plunged head on in to the heaving Psar.
The next few hours were spent slipping and sliding through the market tasting many different foods such as fried frogs,snakes,rice soup, fish paste, durian,fish paste etc etc and Leakhana was a natural and followed Andrew’s lead seamlessly.AndrewZimmern is a real character and we were having a ball working with him. Ignoring the cameras, it was just a very pleasant way to spend the morning and the locals were loving it too – especially Patrick’s very generous wallet! The chain-smoking Patrick was great in that he understood the fact that in a small way we were imposing on some of the stall holders by fondling their food and blocking their store fronts whilst we filmed but his cash handouts more than made up for it and some stallholders could have gone home for the day !
Next stop was Central Market where there was just one purpose in mind – insects. There is a lady there who sells the whole range and the crews of Bizarre Foods were gung ho to get some cricket chomping on camera. Andrew introduced this segment as a “Let’s eat our way up the food chain” game and away we went. Tiny crickets came first and we then moved through to the “mid-sized family wagon” ( as Andrew called it) and finished with the humongous water bug which was just plain nasty. Leakhana and Andrew polished it all off with a fried Tarantula but despite Andrew’s goading I just could not come at the 8 legged behemoth.
Last stop of the morning was Raffles hotel for lunch and it was here that I ate the most disappointing meal I have had in all my time in Cambodia. The bloody Raffles beef burger. What a disaster. Crappy meat, crappy inclusions and a crappy bun. Still, it was very nice of Bizarre foods to buy us lunch and it was good to have a chart with the crew members who were all nice people. So now we wait patiently until next May or so when the show will finally air and we will hopefully get a copy from the makers. All in all it was a good fun day and a welcome break from the usual schedule.
That night we dined with the Australian Ambassador in the garden of her private residence and it was a sumptuous feast of Australian fare including fantastic lamb chops, potato salad and snags. A fitting end to a gastronomic day and buoyed on with confidence from filming, Leakhana asked the embassy if she could make a speech in reply to the Ambassador’s welcome to us all. I was so proud to see my wife stand up in front of around 60 people (many of whom she knew, some she didn’t) and simply thank all the Australians on behalf of Cambodia for coming to her country to work and live. For anyone who knows the self-effacing nature of Khmer, you have to understand that this was a HUGE thing for her to do and she carried it off with style and aplomb. She was thanked and congratulated by the Ambassador and everyone was chuffed with her efforts. What a woman !