Travel Report: Kep Crab Market, Cambodia.
Kep Crab Market.
December 2015 & August 2020. It was late afternoon and the weather was not improving. While the rain had finally died out, there was now a blustery wind cutting in from the sea as we approached Kep Crab Market from the road that winds around the cliffs.
With our arch nemesis COVID-19 having wiped out nearly all of Kep’s tourist action, I half wondered if the market and its row of restaurants would even be open. Indeed the entire street seemed eerily quiet as Sladja and I made our approach.
When Wonderboy and I first came here back in December 2015 there had at least been a few restaurant touts calling over hungry, crab-seeking visitors. But on this grey August afternoon around three quarters of the eateries were shut up. Moreover, those who had remained open showed little interest in enticing us in.
In fact, the only beings who paid us any heed were these friendly dogs belonging to one of the restaurants. And they soon lost interest upon realising we didn’t have any treats for them.
Kep Crab Market.
The plan had been for Sladja and I to have dinner at Holy Crab Restaurant, the same eatery I’d dined at with Wonderboy on that long ago evening. Neither of us had been all that crazy about crab. But hey, we figured, when in Rome and all that.
We’d read that Holy Crab was the top crab restaurant in town, and we could certainly see why. Grabbing the best table in the house at the back of the restaurant, we ordered a couple of beers and drank in the sea views.
Then came the fresh crab, a generous helping of fried squid and bowls of tangy green mango salad. Everything was delicious, though Wonderboy had a hell of a time negotiating his way through all the crab bones.
Finally, with happy stomachs and another round of beers, we sat back and enjoyed the Kep sunset, an evening view right up there with the best from our time in Cambodia.
Naturally I was hoping for a repeat performance with Sladja. However, we soon discovered that Holy Crab was closed. So closed, it turned out, that even the L in the sign had taken a rain check.
What To See & Do, Kep.
Adding to the general disappointment, crab also remained elusive in those restaurants that had opened. “No crab today!” explained this lady at another recommended restaurant, The Crab Kitchen.
“Wind too strong!” revealed one of the men at Kimly Seafood Restaurant. “Not enough crab, maybe tomorrow!” With a sit down crab dinner looking impossible, we decided to head to the market itself to see what was happening there.
Much to our relief, many of the market stalls were open and ready for business! Not that there was much business going on, with no foreign tourists other than ourselves and just a scattering of locals sauntering around.
Once again, Kep’s seafood vendors largely ignored us. An old man slept in his bamboo chair, while a nearby grandma, seemingly dressed in her pyjamas, fiddled with her mobile phone. At another station, a mother plopped her child down on a large freezer and began feeding him a hearty dinner of fried barramundi.
Kep Crab Market.
Dating back to the early 1920s, Kep Crab Market sprang up in reaction to the town’s rapid growth as a French holiday resort. With an increasing number of wealthy Europeans and Americans arriving, in addition to holidaying Cambodian royals, it was clear that there was money to be made from feeding the rich.
Thus seafood vendors from all across the coast began relocating to Kep. Most of the stalls have been run by the same families since those old colonial days. The nearby row of restaurants, meanwhile, with their fancier menus and pricier dishes, joined the party in the 1990s.
You name it, Kep Crab Market does it when it comes to seafood. There was grilled shrimp, prawns, octopus and squid. A whole range of fried fish, including red snapper, tuna and gurami. Finally, we came across several vendors pedalling… yes… some Kep crab!
Enquiring with a local vendor, we learned that crab goes for about $30 a kilo. That’s pretty much three sizeable crabs of one’s choosing.
Not wanting to spend so much, and put off by the prospect of sitting out in the biting wind, we ultimately passed on a grand feast and made do with some deep fried crab sticks to go at a nearby stall. Cheap and really tasty!
Kep Crab Market.
With our appetites whetted, we decided to head back to the row of restaurants to have some warmth with our dinner. On the way out, we paused briefly to check out the market’s statue in honour of King Sdach Korn, who ruled Cambodia between 1512 to 1545.
It was just us and a grizzled old expat man sat in the corner that evening. Once again it was “no crab”, so we settled for some squid and a plate of veggie fried rice. Complimented, of course, by two icy mugs of Angkor beer. Not quite what we’d envisioned at the start of the day, but that’s often how things pan out in Cambodia.
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