She opened her basket and I dove in, grabbing 1 kilo of squirming little blue crabs.
Wait, what did you think I meant?
Well if you read any guidebook on Southern Cambodia, they tell you that you simply must go to the crab market in Kep, for crabs.
The restaurants and crab hawkers are aware that it is the thing to do in the tiny town and the prices definitely reflect it.
Even though I felt like I was getting gouged, I was still up for trying the local dish at $5 for a Kilo of live crab, and $.50 to cook em’.
So as the process goes, I head to the dock, next door to the market, down the wooden pier where the women are wadding in the sea with their baskets of crabs. I find a friendly looking older Cambodia woman, I inspect her wares, and buy a few pounds of her pinchers. So like I said, I got crabs from an old Cambodian woman.
On the dock I get a few wiffs of the smell that seems to be ever present along the shoreline between Kep beach and the market, the smell of fish, mixed with the local waste water. This quickly floats to the back of my mind as I take my bag of still kicking crabs back toward the market, where a big boiling pot awaits them. Once in the capable hands of the cooking ladies they make quick work of the first part of their $.50 task, hooking the crabs through the brain. Now numb to their impending doom they are tossed in the pot filled will sea water and already boiling away. When the last crab gives its final death throws the lid is shut and they steam away for 5-10 minutes over a wood fired burner.
The crabs enter the pot a light blue, but during cooking they are transformed to the pinkish red color normally associated with crab.
I am not sure how or when, but the crabs take on a less than pleasant odor and taste. The old adage, you are what you eat, likely plays into this. Living in the waters just off shore, and eating whatever a crab eats around the foul smelling water surrounding the market and town. If that’s not enough to impart the flavors, than surely cooking with the water must. When cracking the claws I was sprayed in the face with water more than once. Boiling the water ensures it to be more than safe to consume, but does little to improve the taste.
Overall I was more than disappointed by my Kep crab experience. I also had the crab in the restaurants, served as a curry, which was much better. I am not a picky eater by any means, but this was just not good. I was left with the smell all over my hands and it lingered for hours. If you try the crabs make sure to get it in a dish with a good amount of seasoning.
So as in most things found in guide books it sound a lot better on paper, and they don’t always tell the full story.