Thursday, September 5, 2013

Things I Love In Cambodia: Gemstones

Here is one juicy tidbit that is not commonly known to everyone. Cambodia is rich in gemstones. Did that just catch your attention? Yes, I meant that exactly. Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc. are abundant in the provinces of Battambang and Pailin. Sapphires from Pailin are considered to be one of the best in the world.

I was one of the clueless multitude when I first arrived here. I saw them in the markets which were frequented by tourists and judging by the sheer quantity and not to mention the sizes of the stones, I thought they were man-made and synthetics. I was immediately put off and didn't even venture to inquire about them. Then I met these ladies who were quite educated and avid collectors of this gemstones. It became one way to pass time to just go to the markets to browse through the jewelry on display. Trying them on is fun and free, like what I did on this day.

necklace with moonstone and fancy sapphires (what they call sapphires which are not blue)

One thing you would notice with their gemstones here is how different they look from what we are used to. Vivid colors and very sparkly. This is because of the processes that the stones go through to bring out deeper colors or enhance their natural hues, such as heating, dyeing and irradiation. Majority of the gemstones you could find here are untreated and remain in their natural colors. 

I don't know so much about the market demands for this untreated, natural gemstones but they hold an appeal for me because they don't look so ostentatious. To a lot of people, they are unrecognizable as precious. Based on my research, however, unheated stones are actually more valuable than heated ones. I am not an expert, however.  But it's a matter of personal preference because some wouldn't mind buying enhanced stones for their beauty.

blue zircon necklace

Blue zircon should not be mistaken for cubic zirconia, a synthetic stone which has little to no value. Cambodia proudly is one of the best sources for this gemstone. Years back this used to be cheaper and more abundant until it became internationally recognized, owing to one jewelry company that used it in it's designs. The best ones are brighter blue and I've read before, it comes second to diamond in it's brilliance.

 necklace with natural emerald stones

Most of the jewelry are set in silver, which makes them more budget-friendly. Silver is another natural resource which is quite abundant in Cambodia. There is always an option though of getting jewelry in gold. They usually come in sets too which would include earrings, pendants and bracelets. Though buying the entire set in purely optional. Loose gemstones are usually of better quality and they do customize jewelry.

earrings in quartz, peridot, amethyst, citrine, etc.

The stones are so big, they look like candies.

bracelets in aquamarine, onyx,garnet, sapphire, amethyst and citrine

cocktail rings in my birthstone Peridot

It would normally cost you an arm and a leg to own one of these but not in Cambodia. The prices do vary, but to give you an idea, my young son was able to gift me with an aquamarine ring recently.

As always, the buyer should be aware of what they are buying. Some do mix in synthetic gemstones and colored glass with real ones. The sellers do not issue a certificate and there is no way to verify the authenticity probably until you go back to your home country. I would suggest to sticking to natural gemstones rather than enhanced ones because the authenticity is far easier to detect. Well, you can always contact me for recommendations. lol!

 Haggling is a must and maybe one of the first things to learn here is to ask for the price in Khmer to get a "locals" price. That is, if your looks can pass as Cambodian.  

So I'd say, skip buying those souvenir T-shirts, key chains and refrigerator magnets for something far nicer and unique for yourself and a special someone. 



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Terrazza in Phnom Penh

In Phnom Penh, restaurants and cafes and bistros are popping up everywhere, like mushrooms after a healthy rainfall. It is some sort of adventure and bonding moment for my mom-friends and I to try out a new place once a week or at least twice a month. In full attendance we could be as many as 10-12, coming from different countries with different religions and food restrictions. It became a challenge then to find restaurants that would have something for everyone beyond salads and stir-fried veggies. 

Last Saturday evening, after attending Mass, our family decided to try out Terrazza, an Italian restaurant and deli shop. Right after we sampled our food, I knew the moms had to have lunch there. The extensive menu covered everything, from meat, seafoods, poultry and most especially vegetarian dishes and the option between beef and pork for certain dishes. Whenever a "V" was indicated at the top of the picture, it's a vegetarian dish which made it perfect for our ladies' lunch.

But the deciding factor was really my kids' approval. We've been to enough restaurants where I was much too late to keep them from commenting about the food loudly. Once within earshot of the owner my son stated their pasta sauce was too thin and too little and my spaghetti carbonara was better. This was entirely true though. So seeing them thoroughly enjoying their food made me certain it would be a great place for our next lunch.

We were given the VIP room which seated all 12 of us comfortably. It didn't take long for the food to be served. I think placing our orders took even longer because we couldn't stop chatting with each other. So another mom and I decided to take charge and ordered whatever we fancied. Yeah, those who pay attention get to decide.. Haha! The manager (I forgot to ask her name) was very helpful in making suggestions and recommendations because believe me, everything looked good and choosing one was difficult. 

Fettuccini Con Gamberi E Zucchini

Grigliata Di Scamorza Affumicata E Verdure
grilled salmon, scarmoza, zucchini, eggplant, tomato and capsicum

 Linguini Vongole 
Tortelli Alla Boscaiola
Tortelli filled with Italian air-cured Speck, Italian Porcini and cream 

 Il Capello del Prete
mozarella, Taleggio cheese, anchovies, garlic, Italian porcini mushrooms

      This is like a "sandwich" pizza being doubled-layered and filled with the ingredients.

Our vegetarian lady ordered this gnocchi.

This too is a vegetarian pasta which I think is lasagne with eggplant in Parmigiana sauce. This I got to taste because they generously passed it around, though I think they were simply being wise and watching their diet. It was really good, I didn't even miss the meat in the traditional lasagne. 

Once again, the food didn't disappoint.  The food was tasty, fresh and everything you would want your food to taste. The "Thanks for bringing us to this place" is probably more than enough to convey that the moms liked if not loved Terrazza too. 

Unfortunately I had to dash for a cooking class for little kids. I would have loved to linger and sample their dessert too. But there is always a next time, which I'm definite, will happen soon. I definitely like the chic and classy but not overwhelmingly so vibe of the place.


Terraza is located at #1, St 282 BKK. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Things I Love In Cambodia Part 1

We've been living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a little over 2 years now. But I've never really featured the place and what is has to offer to locals and foreigners alike. So while it's late, it's never too late to start now. There are many things to write about but I've chosen those that directly have an impact on me or those that I love or like no matter how trivial they are. These are by no means the only good things here but they certainly shouldn't all be written in one long blog. A few at a time will do.

Nail Art

I've already done a blog on this here. But it remains the top favorite thing of mine. After 2 years, I am still fascinated by the skill of the manicurists. I've taken to looking for designs online to give them some challenge. Then they have the free reign to be creative. And for the price of $4, who wouldn't love it? They have nail art at almost every salon here but the best one for me is still at the ground floor of Sovannah Mall.

The Beach

I've reconciled with the fact that my freckles are here to stay and they will happily multiply no matter what I do or don't do. So we hit the beach whenever we can. While other countries can boast of far more beautiful beaches, I am quite content in Sihanoukville because I am very paranoid about a tsunami hitting while I am at the beach. But the sea in Sihanoukville doesn't open directly to any ocean so I feel more secure. Really, who wouldn't love this beach? It's beautiful, clean and peaceful.

                                                                 Independence Hotel beach 

                                                                  Sokha Beach Resort and Hotel

Fruits Galore!

Fresh fruits abound the wet markets and supermarkets all year round. I have to say they have the best mangoes here. I don't know what variety it is, but their green mangoes, looking much like our carabao mangoes in the Philippines, are crunchy and sweet. In the picture, the mangoes look half ripe but I can promise you, it is ripe and sweet and juicy but firm. 

Another favorite of the entire family is the jackfruit. We have to buy the whole fruit because a few kilos won't be enough for us. This saffron-colored variety is the one used for jackfruit chips from Thailand. Imagine eating the fresh fruit then! I wish I could send some off to the readers so they'll get what I mean because we don't have this variety in the Philippines.

While they are everywhere, the best prices would be at the wet markets that the locals go to. We get them at this market on St 271, near Intercontinental Hotel. A kilo of jackfruit at Psar Thmey with skin and seeds is $3 but it only about $1.50 at this other market. Everything else is a lot cheaper than at BKK and Psar Thmey. I would suggest though to send your helper because it is an open market, and therefore hot. 

That is my first dose for you for the things to love in Cambodia. I always say, in every place, you gain some, you lose some. I've lost the malls but I've gained everything above.