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A Cambodian Culinary Adventure: An Interview with Lara Dunston from Grantourismo Travels

May 5, 2016

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Marvelous natural attractions, stunning Hindu and Buddhist temples and of course, scrumptious food were some of the many reasons for Australian-born, Lara Dunston and Terence Carter to pack and settle in Cambodia. And who wouldn’t love to do that? Cambodia is the paradise that adventurers, food lovers and those with artistic souls shouldn’t miss for anything in the world.

Cambodia is part of one of the most incredible culinary regions in the world: southeast Asia, nestled right between Thailand and Vietnam. Along with mouthwatering food, Cambodia has other magnificent natural gifts to offer such as green cultivated fields, beautiful rainforests, and inspiring culture that is focused on Buddhism and Hinduism.

By getting on board on their 11-day culinary experience in Cambodia, Grantourismo Travels, will give you that golden ticket to discover the authentic Cambodia. You will not only feast on and cook Cambodian food, you will also improve your writing and photography skills, while immersing yourself in the lives of the locals.

Want to know more? Read our interview with the fascinating Lara Dunston, traveler and food writer, and learn more about Grantourismo Travels’ gastronomic and artistic adventure in Cambodia!


Why have you decided to offer a ‘Culinary Travel Writing and Photography’? Why not just hold a culinary retreat?

We’ll be hosting culinary focused tours in late 2016 and 2017. However, last year we held a culinary travel writing and photography tour that was well received. It was jam-packed with so many activities that we didn’t have enough time for participants to sit and reflect upon what they were experiencing, so we wanted to give people an opportunity to be inspired and stimulated by what they were experiencing and be creative.

Cambodia, with its incredible natural beauty, its rich culture and heritage. It’s wonderful, yet unknown cuisine requires that downtime for reflection. While we’ve created an itinerary that should motivate people to pick up a pen or camera and get creative – and we have decades of experience as successful creatives and teachers of creativity, so we’ll be on-hand to instruct, guide and advise people – the creative workshops and small assignments are optional.

So, if you’ve dreamed of becoming a writer or photographer, or you’re a blogger who wants to become a successful writer, a writer who wants to improve your photography skills, or a photographer who wants to develop some writing techniques, then this is for you. But if you also just want to come and eat and absorb and experience ‘our’ Cambodia, you can do that too. If you just want to chill out, when the workshops are on – and they’re small bite-size sessions – you can swim, take a stroll, read a book, or swing in a hammock.


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What makes your 11-day culinary retreat in Cambodia different than the usual Cambodian culinary travel experience?

As food and travel writers living in Cambodia, we know absolutely everyone – from chefs and restaurant owners to local producers, artists, and archaeologists. We have close relationships with people and an insider’s perspective that tour operators based in other countries, and guides who are only guides, don’t have. We’ve created a lot of behind-the-scenes experiences, such as the opportunities to take a peek into a restaurant kitchen and meet and interview chefs, and that sets us apart from other tours.

We also have a very in-depth knowledge due to the research and writing we’ve undertaken on Cambodia and its cuisine and culture. We also test out a lot of tours ourselves, in the course of our work as travel writers, and guides are often saying to us “you know more than me!” Having said that, we can never know more than someone born in a place who has grown up eating their grandmother’s food and shopping the markets every morning with their mum. So we’ve brought some key people in to lead some of our tours and host some of our activities and share that local experience. Our guides are special and because we know them so well, we can co-host some excursions to make the experience even richer for participants. 


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Which would you say are the must-try dishes and drinks of Cambodia?

Cambodia has two quintessential breakfast kinds of soups that are must-tries and we’ll be offering the chance to see these soups being made in a real, rustic local kitchen. Guests will learn how important soups (samlors) are to Cambodians and the role they play in culinary culture, and of course, our participants will get to try them. However, the number one dish is fish amok, which is a steamed fish curry. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding this dish, as it’s hard to find it made the genuine way. A lot of the tourist restaurants simply serve it as a curry, some have made concessions to foreign tastes and make it with all kinds of ingredients that it wasn’t meant to be created from. We’ll ensure our guests try the most authentic and most delicious version of the dish in Cambodia and they’ll get to learn how to make it.

There’s a long tradition of drinking rice spirits here in Cambodia, however, they are potent and can taste like firewater. There’s a small producer in Siem Reap that has developed a range of wonderful infused rice spirits made with local herbs and spices – as well as a rice spirit-based liqueur made with chocolate! On our retreat, people will get to see the traditional rice spirit being made in the old way in a local’s home and taste it, then they’ll get to sample these new-style liqueurs in a beautiful tasting room. They’ll round off the experience with a cocktail making lesson from a cool young Cambodian woman who runs a hip little bar in a traditional house who is creating innovative cocktails made with local ingredients.


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In your opinion, what is  the most interesting experience that  you have crafted for this trip?

It’s hard to choose one as our retreat is jam-packed with experiences that people won’t have on other tours and could never arrange for themselves. But to give you one example, we’ll be visiting Battambang for three days and doing excursions into the bucolic countryside by tuk tuks – breezy, open-sided carriages attached to motorbikes. A lot of tour groups visit Battambang and they also head into the villages, but the big difference is that we do it in a more respectful, engaging and insider-y way that only people who live in a place with regular contact and relationships with people can do.


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Are there any special reasons as to why you hold your retreat in May?

May seems like a strange month to some people because it’s the first month after the hottest period of the year – March and April – and it’s still quite warm and yet it’s the last month before monsoon, the rainy season begins. However, what we love about it is that it’s also the first month of the low season so we get to experience the temples without the crowds and because there aren’t a crazy number of tourists around local people are much more relaxed and happy to stop for a chat and engage with our groups and it’s that personal interaction that makes our experiences more memorable than the average tour.


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What do you think participants will remember most from this experience?

They’re going to be visiting some of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the world and tasting phenomenal food that they’ve probably never tried before, but what we want them to remember the most is their encounters with local people. Because one of Cambodia’s biggest assets is its people – they are some of the friendliest, sweetest, warmest, and most welcoming people in the world. I just have to leave my house and walk down the street and a family of five will be on a motorbike and they’ll all look at me with these most generous smiles and it makes my day. That’s what I want our guests to experience. They will taste impressive food, dine in world-class restaurants, explore stupendous temples, and learn to cook dishes they’ve never made before, but what I want them to remember most are the smiles.


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Thanks for checking out this interview. If you’d like to read more great content on food, wine. and travel, please visit our blog section. To take a peek at the variety of culinary holidays, vacations, and getaways we have on offer in Asia and Oceania, feel free to peruse through the scrumptious choices here!

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