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Happy Herb's Bistro
1999-05-12 15:04:53


Pigdog in Cambodia
 
You know its people like you who make the middle east mad.
-- PDJ Reader "Not an American"

 

Happy Herb's, as the sharp-minded of you will have guessed, serves ganja and since the Russian market got busted expatriates have had a reasonable excuse to go and munch some herb for supper. Herb also does hash coffees for brekky and will sell you a large Nescafe jar full of weed for a dollar.

The riverfront on the Tonle Sap makes a fine place for a wander in the afternoon. Khmer families light a stick of incense or two at the temple and stroll down past the Foreign Correspondent's Club, maybe munch on some sugar cane, maybe just watch the river meet the Mekong, and the Bassac fork away towards Vietnam. The French called it the "Quatre Bras," because the three big rivers resemble four arms.

Young Khmer blokes cruise the promenade showing off their fancy motos to giggling young girls, and beggars limp merrily after the big NGO landrovers. From a seat on the pavement outside Happy Herb's bistro you can get so filled up with love you'll wear a soppy grin for days.

Happy Herb's, as the sharp-minded of you will have guessed, serves ganja and since the Russian market got busted expatriates have had a reasonable excuse to go and munch some herb for supper. Herb also does hash coffees for brekky and will sell you a large Nescafe jar full of weed for a dollar.

After I'd ordered, Herb came out of the kitchen and asked, "Happy?" "Very," I replied. No point in half-measures, I thought and pulled a spliff out of my glasses case. Herb sat down and we began chatting.

Happy Herb's began in the heady days when the UN ruled Cambodia while they tried to sort out some half-decent elections. Cambodia was flooded with danger-seeking fools with astronomical wages which they squandered on drugs, prostitutes and fine dining. Herb was taught to cook pizzas by one of this crew, and suggested adding ganja, a traditional Khmer ingredient. (Later in the meal a veteran of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia came over, steaming drunk and blazing a big Sherlock Holmes style pipe. "I used to be Very Important!" he said to a military policeman who couldn't understand English. "I was an Election Monitor in 93!" His Khmer wife and child stood back in embarrassment.)

Herb's always been a dab hand in the kitchen. He was his unit's cook in the civil war, before he ran away. "I didn't want to fight," he said. As his unit was nearing the battlefield he and his two mates jumped off the lorry and legged it into the jungle. Because he was a deserter no one would give him a lift, so it took him a week to walk back to Phnom Penh. He sold all of his gear for food except for his AK-47, which he keeps to shoo away the tiny lizards that gather around light bulbs at night. "I take out the powder from the bullets," he says, "I leave just enough to stun the little chik-chaks."

The pizza arrived on a nice wooden platter. Herb's found a blend of spices that complements the flavour of ganja perfectly. Anyone who's tried cooking with weed will know that it leaves a sharp taste that overwhelms the rest of the food. Herb's pizza has managed to tone it down with lots of creamy cheese, oregano and some other Italian herbs.

A big thunderstorm was brewing as I ate. Trigger-happy Cambodians like to shoot at storms to make it rain and the first few maniacs were loosing off a few. The air became tense and muggy as it does before a storm. Suddenly the river turned into a huge black snake which I quickly realized had nefarious designs on the Naga floating casino. I was expecting something like this. The stream of motos on the promenade were dopplering very oddly, giving me the sensation I was on a magic roundabout. Equally suddenly I noticed I was sitting on a chair by a table and a street kid was begging a cigarette. I gave him one and lit another for myself; it cooled me right out. Gunfire echoed around the city and it began to rain so hard the trees on the other side of the road were invisible. After some time it stopped and I got a moto through the cleansed air and shiny streets. Flashing fairy lights hung across the street to advertise brothels left tracers a hundred feet long that glittered and flashed around my head.

The Cambodia Daily said in their restaurant guide "If you decide you aren't going back to work anyway after lunch, by all means have Herb sprinkle some happiness on your pizza, but unless you want to zone out for a couple of days, ask for "tik-tik. (Khmer for "a little.") This correspondent asked for "tom-tom" and was still tripping the same time the next day, all loved-up over pastis at sunset watching the promenade again.

Verdict: An excellent meal with great side-effects. One pizza with two beers cost £3.50 in crisp green Yankee money.

Oliver Green, Ganja Gonzo Extraordinaire

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

vagrant@pigdog.org


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