Boy, you really got me going. You got me so I don’t know what I’m doing. If you noticed the gender, you’ll know this is Salt N Peppa and not the Kinks. And what does that all have to do with Kampot? Why the condiment tour, of course!
On our last day in Kampot we took a three-hour tuk tuk tour to get further into the countryside. Along the way we stopped at a salt field and a pepper farm to learn how the most basic of condiments get to our table.
The salt fields in Kampot are close to the ocean, so farmers let salt water into the field through a small canal. The water is left to evaporate over a few days, leaving salt crystals behind.
This process is repeated a number of times until enough crystals have formed and the raw salt is ready to be collected and stored in warehouses. Eventually the salt makes its way from the warehouse to a salt factory where it is cleaned and mixed with iodine, and packaged in 50 kg bags for distribution. Apparently 120,000 kg of salt can be traded for one ounce of gold!
The salt field we visited was deserted as heavy rains had impeded the drying process. You could see salt crystals collecting in the fields, and we also peaked into a warehouse to see the piles of salt that looked like snow.
Having tasted Kampot pepper in crab dishes, on fries and in Khmer curry, we were interested to find out how the pepper is produced.
Kampot pepper has historically been an important export of Cambodia’s since the 13th century. At the beginning of the 20th century around 8,000 tons of pepper were exported each year. However, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, only four tons were harvested by the end of the 90s.
Today the product is making a comeback, and 50 tons were exported in 2014 to places like the United States, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. And there are a few packets on their way right now to Canada because it is really yummy!
Kampot pepper comes in four varieties: green, black, red and white. All come from the same plant; the difference lies in what stage the fruit is harvested and how it is processed.
Black peppercorns are picked when they are still green. They are left to dry in the sun for a week, which turns them black. If their skins are removed through boiling, they become white peppercorns that are less spicy.
Red peppercorns are more mature than black peppercorns, as they are given an extra four months on the vine. Riper than their black counterpart, they don’t lose their colour when they are dried and have a sweeter taste.
And finally, green peppercorns are extremely unripe and best consumed fresh (within three days of being picked).
Pepper is grown in rows like orchard fruit. It takes up to three years for the vines to be ready to produce pepper, but the the vines generally last for 20 or more years.
Kampot pepper has a special designation from the European Union that protects it in the same way as products like champagne. No one outside of Champagne can claim their bubbly to be champagne, and no one outside of Kampot can claim their pepper to be Kampot pepper.
Rooftop river ride
After sweltering in 40 degree heat with humidity at about 75%, we decided to spend the afternoon riding on top of a river boat feeling the cool breeze as we watched life go by on the river banks.
At one point we saw a group of 30 or so fishing boats with lots of activity happening on deck. We didn’t realize how close they were to setting sail. After we passed by, we looked back to watch them. Suddenly we were surrounded by a flottilla of fishermen, which is where my cover photo comes from!