If you visit Phnom Penh without doing any prior research into its history, you might be in for a depressing and maybe even shocking experience. Due to the civil war which took place about 40 years ago and the mass genocide that followed, some historical and important sites around the city include torture chamber, political prison, execution site and mass graves. So after a sombre day, a tour around the capital’s various markets is a good way to experience the Cambodian culture in a different way.
Here we are on a tuk tuk to the Central Market after completing our visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Like any parts of Asia where tuk tuk is available, always be prepared to haggle and just walk away if the quoted price feels too high.
If you happen to stumble into a nice tuk tuk driver who could speak and understand basic English, it is a good idea to engage him directly for any day trips you have in mind. If you plan to visit the Killing Fields it’d be a good idea to look for one. They won’t ask for it but a tip, however small it might be, is always appreciated.
The Central Market (Khmer name: Psar Thmay) was built in 1937 during the French colonial period. As a result, the market’s layout and design is French-influenced.
The structure of the market is a central dome with four arms that branch out into hallways, each occupied with stalls of goods. The market is well segregated with sections dedicated to certain type of goods such as seafood, clothings, food stalls, fruits and vegetables, trinkets and various souvenirs.
A stall of local fruits, many of them are familiar to us.
No Musang King or D24 here. Just their local Kampot Durian. It’s very large, fleshy and sweet.
More durians, guarded by a cat.
Jackfruits are very common here but not as aggresively cultivated like ours to have brands such as J33, CJ7, Subang and so on (knowledge I gained while I was working with Nangka) Theirs are crunchier, not so juicy and less sweet as well.
Moving forward was a walkway flanked with fresh and dried seafood stalls. It was an eye opening experience, as most of the seafood species were new to us.
[tab_nav type=”three-up”][tab_nav_item title=”Mud crab” active=”true”][tab_nav_item title=”Flower crab” active=””][tab_nav_item title=”Sea snail” active=””][/tab_nav]
I think these are sea snails. They are huge alright.
Fish plays a huge part in Cambodian cuisine. These grilled fresh water eels are stacked on each other for sale. They are very delicious and all you need is a mango relish for dipping to finish a bowl of rice.
It’s a good idea to come here with an empty stomach to sample a variety of food sold by countless food stalls located inside and outside the market. You will find eats of all kinds from snacks, desserts to mixed rice and noodles all at very affordable prices. Grilled seafood is enjoyed on its own or with a balut (developing duck embryo) on another hand.
We tried one of the fried noodles here, it was a typical serving with beef and topped with an egg. Not bad but their self-concocted chilli sauce added a lot flavor and made all the difference.
While waiting for the noodles we had a go at some traditional snacks right behind us. The hat shaped ‘kuih’ on the right is soft and sweet at the center with a crispy edge, delicious.
Further into the market is a food court with even more food stalls. This lady here specializes in Cambodian coconut milk desserts, something like ‘leng chee kang’ but with a whole lot more selections of toppings. You could have a predefined bowl or mix and match according to your liking.
It looks simple but satisfyingly good, makes our cendol look silly in comparison.
A stall selling an array of peanuts, biscuits and snacks similar to muruku.
Most of the food stalls were starting to close for the day by the time we reached here. Luckily for us we managed to find one noodle stall that served hearthy and delicious koay teow soup.
A child was seen resting on a stall slab right opposite us.
This is the interior of the central dome. It is filled with individual stalls selling clothes, trinkets, jewellery replicas, figurines and souvenirs.
A clock could be seen at the center of the dome. Overall, being here feels like being at Glass Dome of Galleria shopping mall in Milan, but with an Asian setting.
By the time we finished exploring the Central Market it was already close to evening and past the market’s operating hour. The crowd started to disperse and move towards the roads where more shops and street food vendors were still operating.
If you are looking to shop, the Central Market might not be the best place since there’s the Russian Market (another market that has a larger selection of things to buy) located not far away. But if architecture, history and food interest you more, then you’ll certainly appreciate your visit here. We sure did.Central Market (Psah Thmay)
Neayok Souk, Phnom Penh 855
Operating hours: Daily 5:00am-5:00pm