When thinking about what represents Cambodia, seafood doesn’t often top the list. Angkor Wat, tuk tuks, dusty roads, amok, Siem Reap, Khmer Rouge, poverty, orphanages are probably what most people think of. But the seafood on offer, especially down in the southern region of Kep is sensational, particularly for those who are willing to get their hands dirty with crab, prawns or clams.
The crab in Kep is the highlight though and should not be missed! The delicate meat is is sweet, fresh and absolutely delicious. Restaurants offer it cooked up to your liking – grilled, steamed, stirfried, raw or boiled for around $10 for a plate of 4 large crabs.
Our preferred choice of eating, however, is purchased fresh from the market, boiled plain and served up in a plastic bag on a vinyl coated table beside the clear, calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. For $5 you can grab a bag of around 9 decent sized crabs that can be cooked up fresh for $0.5o (2000riel).
The market ladies also have fresh squid, clams and prawns that can also be cooked up on site and served in plastic bags to your table.
When you buy your seafood from the market, you get a pretty unique experience. First the seller will haggle with you over the price. It does vary according to season, but we got around $5 per kilo / 20,000 riel.
Then your lady will direct you to a pot or go and bring one in fresh from the ocean to give you your crabs.
You will need to be a little assertive at this point of selection as the sellers will attempt to select smaller (or less healthy-looking) crabs which are a bit difficult to eat – so get in there and pick your heros!
After you have chosen your crabs, the ladies will take them away to cook them up for you. Find a seat, crab an Angkor beer and chillax til they are ready.
Along with the seafood, you can get an array of freshly made sweets like rice and coconut waffles, fried rice cakes and other unknown treats that are all pretty delicious and cost around $0.25c each.
There are also sellers who offer a range of grilled fish and squid plus chicken and other bits and pieces that are tied to pieces of bamboo and served up with a sauce of choice to your table or stuffed in a plastic bag for a snack on the go.
From any of the food vendors near to the crab market, you can grab the ubiquitous Khmer sauce – ombell m’rich krochimaa (salt, pepper and lime) that is served up for all kinds of grilled meats, seafoods and even stir-fries across the country. Kep also has bottles of sweet chilli and garlic sauce which is very popular, but I’m a sucker for the sourness the other offering provides.
Restaurants at the crab market cater well for those who prefer their crab, prawns, fish or squid served on plates with a sauce and rice…and they do a mighty fine job of that too! Highlights are the prawns with green kampot peppercorns, grilled fish and tom yum soups.
Besides seafood, Kep is a great place to explore on bicycle or by foot. If you have the opportunity, the walk between Kep beach and the crab market is sensational, especially so at sunset and a great way to increase your appetite for the next feast on seafood.
If you are lucky enough you may even get to spot the local monkeys who come down at around 5pm to snack on food and play around.
A popular spot for sunset drinks is Knai Bang Chatt , better known as Kep Sailing Club that has gorgeous views across the ocean, great cocktails and a very happy hours (5-7pm) that has half price cocktails.
To get to Kep from Phnom Penh, its a relatively short journey (provided you aren’t attempting to go during peak holiday time!). For around $6 you can get a number of direct buses that take about 4 hours to get there (we recommend Vibol +855 785 05001). The buses do stop quite a bit along the way to pick up and drop off passengers, but if you are prepared with a book and some good music it won’t annoy you too much. Taxis and mini buses can also be arranged through any guesthouse or hotel in Phnom Penh.
Accomodation wise, Kep has a lot of good options. We stayed at Reaksmey Krong Kep Guesthouse the last time we were down in Kep (it is the closest to the crab market!) and it was very good value ($15 for fan room / $20 for aircon) and have stayed at Barcoma too that was $20 for a private bungalow set in a pretty garden.