I’ve arrived in Cambodia, and it’s been an experience finding things to eat. Everyone is eager to sell something, and every restaurant has a tout out front, so that walking down the street becomes a game of cat and mouse.
“Very good food, sir,” promised the man in the red shirt who stood outside a Thai restaurant down the street from the Golden Home, eying every passing Westerner with a hungry look. “I give you Cambodian draft beer, normally seventy-five cents, for fifty cents! Please, come!”
“Now we practically have to order beers,” muttered Mike as we sat down, and soon the beers arrived, following a plate of spicy peanuts, bar food that made me unable to taste the drinks that won us over. I ordered crispy pork and then, because I hadn’t had an odd enough day viewing the Cambodian killing fields, a plate of fried frogs. Out front the man still called to the other Westerners, who shook their heads or ignored him, stalking into the night with determined strides.
When the frogs arrived, they stared at me with burned-out eyes, their brown bodies twisted in a heap on the plate. The legs came off with only a slight twist (the toes came off at the slightest touch), and when I bit in I found that the thighs felt more tender than the calves. They tasted like chicken, but I expected that from the stories of my father, who caught frogs near the family cabin in the woods of Maine, grilling up their legs for a snack.
They had a faint aftertaste, a scent of something I couldn’t quite place, and I chewed thoughtfully, watching the tourists stalk past. I knew I had never tasted it before – it was a chemical, vaguely manufactured smell, lingering in the back of my nose instead of on my tongue.
Suddenly it came to me. The scent was that of dissecting frogs in high school biology, ripping their guts apart so we could identify the organs. It was the scent of latex and formaldehyde. Exactly how fresh were these frogs?