No trip to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, can be complete without a visit to the Phsar Thmei, or the Central Market. Even if you are not the kind that takes pleasure in shopping, you will certainly enjoy walking around this bustling market, taking in the sites, watching the locals sell their wares, and sampling interesting things to eat.
When it was completed in 1937, Phsar Thmei was considered to be the biggest market in Asia. The building is a stunning piece of architecture inspired by the art deco style. Designed in the shape of a dome, the Central Market has four arm-like protrusions that branch out into massive hallways which are bursting with innumerable stalls. All that a human brain can be put onto a shopping list can be found here – from gold and silver to antique coins; from apparels and crafted cloth to trinkets and jewelery; and from books, flowers, and shoes to luggage, souvenirs, and memorabilia. Anything that hasn’t found its way into one of the stalls in this market is probably not worth buying at all.
If you are a foodie, you’ll find yourself incredibly attracted to the Phsar Thmei market. In addition to a stunning array of fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, seafood, and spices that you would generally expect to find in such a place, the Central Market has a way of throwing several unusual things your way too. Be prepared to bump into some exotic edible items and a few bizarre ones too.
For instance, if you can stand such a sight, you’ll find shopkeepers selling monkey brains with great gusto and locals buying them with equal enthusiasm. Any notion that you may have had about monkey brains being eaten only in strange underground cults or tribes located in far flung jungles of the world, the bustling business you observe in Phsar Thmei will convince you otherwise.
If you need an accompaniment to the monkey’s brain, you could always try stomachs, though not necessarily that of a monkey’s. In a place where all parts of an animal are eaten with equal relish, it’s not uncommon to serve animal stomachs on a platter. You can never be sure what animal contributed towards dinner, but those who’ve had it declare the dish to be a delicacy. That is, if you can “stomach” it!
One of the nicer things you can eat at the Phsar Thmei is the distinctive coconut pudding. This creamy dessert is nothing like anything you’ve ever had before. It’s made by grinding the meat of the coconut and mixing it with other ingredients. The pudding has a gooey consistency and is great to have on a hot sultry day as you go about the market enjoying its sights, sounds, and spectacle.