Kep Crab Markets

1 January 2013

The big draw card for me to visit the coastal village of Kep is the crab markets. I have been reading about it and just before we left Brisbane we watched the Vietnamese Australian chef Luke Nguyen visit Kep and cook Crab with Green Kampot Pepper. I have to try it! Kampot is the closest town and renowned for its pepper (apparently). Green pepper is fresh, undried pepper still on the stalk and is not very hot, with a mild flavour and soft enough to eat.

So after a slow start (it is New Years Day after all) and a very average breakfast we eventually go to the shack that is reception and ask them to call a tuk-tuk. When it shows up we are off down the dirt road that seems to have developed a thousand new lumps and bumps overnight, then down town to the crab markets.

The markets are small and the crabs even smaller. They kind of look like a blue swimmer crab but about 1/2 the size you get back in Australia. We wander though the stalls; there is fresh fish and crab for sale, lots of dried fish and shrimp, spices (lots of different types of pepper) and unfamiliar looking fruit and vegetables.

Kep markets
Kep markets
Durian and milk fruit
Durian and milk fruit
Kep markets - dried shrimp
Dried shrimp
BBQ anyone?
BBQ anyone?
Kep markets - dried fish
Dried fish
Local gas and petrol station
Local gas and petrol station

At the wharf groups of people are gathered around woven baskets picking out the best live crabs to buy. I find out later that some of the restaurants will let you bring your own seafood and will cook it up for you for a small charge. But the people doing the buying are obviously locals, either picking up the ingredients for dinner or buying for the local restaurants and guesthouses.

Whats happening here?
Whats happening here?
Picking out the best
Picking out the best

To the left of the markets are a line of restaurants on the shoreline, built out over the water, selling local seafood. We select one, Kimly Restaurant at the far end and manage to snag a table right on the water. There is not much to look at, the water is rather murky, but it is a lot cooler sitting by the window.

Kimly Restaurant
Kimly Restaurant
View from Kimly Restaurant
View from Kimly Restaurant
Fresh coconut juice
Fresh coconut juice

I order the much anticipated Fried Crab with Kampot Green Pepper sauce and Howard selects a fish dish and green vegetables, a couple of drinks later and the food turns up. To quote Gene NOM NOM NOM.

NOM NOM NOM!
NOM NOM NOM!
Crab with Kampot Green Pepper
Crab with Kampot Green Pepper

Its hard work getting the flesh out of these wee crabs, but the flesh is sweet and the pepper sauce is delicious. Well worth the effort.

Our tuk-tuk driver has given us his card for the restaurant to call him for our homeward trip. After a long wait another dude turns up and tells us Polo was busy and he would take us. We ask for an extended tour of Kep to see the sights, which are limited to the Big Crab (think Big Pineapple), the pier and a number of once impressive houses now abandoned and in ruins. When the Khmer Rouge controlled the country, they forced the people out of all the cities and towns into communes (it is estimated between 1 to 3 million died as a result, out of a population of 8 million) and most families never came back to rebuild. Kep was one seaside town where the affluent Khmer would have their summer houses. Pol Pot put an end to that! Driving around the back streets our driver pointed out many shells of ruined houses behind high walls. The Khmer Rouge destroyed them all.

The giant crab
The giant crab
Abondoned house
Abondoned house

Kep is not so much a town, but more a long stretch of undeveloped water front. There is no beach to speak of; you need to head out to the islands for that. Forget golden sand and crystal clear waters. There is nothing like that in Kep!

Having seen the non-existent sights we head back to our hotel for a quiet night, we cannot bare the thought of another dumpy ride down that dirt track. A light meal at the bar, a couple of vodkas (from our secret stash), a chat to our new Swiss Friend and off to bed.

What an action packed day! Ha!

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