The ‘salt and pepper’ of a country is a new phrase I learnt from a Romanian lady who said it refers to the most fertile and rich lands and where nature flourishes. She said Kampot and Kep are the salt and pepper of Cambodia, and very ironically, this is what the regions are famous for. Kampot produces one of the most famous and sought after peppers in the world and Kep is renowned for its delicious crab.
Needing to see and taste what all the fuss was about, we drove to Sothy’s Organic Pepper Farm. There are so many others dotted around the countryside but Sothy’s had great reviews. We got lost on the way and I really couldn’t be bothered to go, how wrong I was! I never thought I’d have so much fun learning about pepper farming and by the end of it we felt like pepper farming connoisseurs. So I will warn you that this post is basically me being a nerd rabbiting on about pepper! A visit to the farm is free but a small donation is very welcome.
Sothy’s is part of 420 farms under an NGO. During the Khmer Rouge regime all farms were destroyed because they saw it as being linked to colonialism – it was the French who realised the value of Kampot pepper and grew the industry. The farms are now protected, completely organic and they employ and pay local people a decent salary. Sothy’s uses a natural approach to everything including solar power. They have a very cool solar powered kettle outside.
Each pepper plant produces only one kilo of pepper per harvest, I thought it would be so much more! For this reason it’s not a particularly profitable thing to grow and the long process after the harvest would explain the high prices of Kampot Pepper.
After it’s dried in a sixty degree greenhouse the peppercorns are sorted, individually by hand, for quality control. If a bag was randomly inspected and found to have ‘bad looking’ peppercorns the farm could lose their badges. These women have many well-deserved tea breaks!
We spent the afternoon in Kep. The beach isn’t the most spectacular in Cambodia but it’s quaint. It’s more of a locals’ beach with families having picnics and lots of street food so it was nice to be amongst that. Hungry after a day learning about food, we headed to the market. There was loads of seafood and once you choose it they cook it for you there and then.
We were a bit naughty that night and went to a restaurant instead of eating at the market, but there was only a few dollars difference in price. We shared a huge plate of crab with Kampot peppercorn sauce and steamed rice and it was delicious. I can understand what the fuss is about!