A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Laura Copeland, Tastings: Traditional Cambodian banana leaf-wrapped catfish dish simple and filling

Posted: 08/30/2012 
The Santa Cruz Sentinel 

The place to be at noontime in Newcastle, Wyo., is a gas station called Mavericks.
A local sitting in his ATV outside Decker's -- the grocery store I was fleeing after seeing the only sandwich options were prepackaged egg salad or roast beef -- recommended I drive there for the best lunch in town.
I'm traveling through the Great Plains this week, missing food in the Cruz and reflecting on how fortunate we are to have healthy, flavorful and local options every few hundred feet.
My last meal before driving into the salad-barren sunset was at Jia Tella's, the Cambodian place in Scotts Valley. I sat on the patio and ordered amok [emphasis on the second syllable], a traditional Cambodian dish of catfish wrapped in a banana leaf. Amok is unlike anything I've had locally, and a good introduction to Khmer cuisine -- simple and filling, clean and comforting.

Before it goes into the banana leaf, the fish is steamed with a coconut-based curry and traditional Cambodian seasonings, locking in the flavors of Southeast Asia. The Jia Tella chef makes amok with lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal, a peppery Asian plant in the ginger family. A bit of egg holds the fish together in a mound inside the banana leaf before getting a second steaming.
Amok arrives at the table at Jia Tella completely concealed within the leaf, which is fastened with toothpicks into a pocket. A side of curry, sprinkled with bell pepper and chives, adds a refreshing coconut tang to 
each forkful of fish. The flavor is closer to a Thai curry, fragrant and mild, than an Indian curry. Even the curry-averse, a species of people for whom I have no empathy, should give it a try. Jia Tella offers amok with catfish or chicken. After trying both, I recommend the former; it's more authentic, and the tender catfish is outstanding.
At $10.25, amok is one of the lower-priced dishes at this Scotts Valley Drive restaurant. The portion is substantial enough to share with a date, especially for those who require a side of rice. Be sure to save room for drinks Next Door -- that's Jia Tella's bar, where I plan to return in a week to toast to the flavors of Santa Cruz.
Idea for a Tastings subject? Contact Laura Copeland at sentinelfood@gmail.com.{ Jia Tellas 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. To 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. Jia Tellas, 5600 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley. 438-5005, www. jiatellas.com }


Anonymous said...

Amok is delicious !
But ហហ្មុក of Khmer

cuisine is more delicious and more polite too !!!

បីកុំ ? ! កុំបី ! ឃ្លៀងឃ្លាត ឬ ឆ្ងល់ឡើយ !!!!!!!!!!

ហ្ស៊ីលី យិន តៃ ពាវ

Anonymous said...

Amok is one of my favorite food.