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.
In the end we settled on Arts Cafe, run by students from a vocational training school called Khmer Hands. The organisation trains local people in various skills related to the hospitality industry.
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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Oh man I’m now even more gutted that our adventure was cut short by COVID. We’d been a bit undecided about where to head, coast wise, in Cambodia, and had eventually settled on Kep. This post shows that our choice was good, and that we definitely missed out to this damned pandemic. We still intend to pick up where we left off on that trip…one day.
Glad Kep continues to please/annoy you ha ha. I’m sure it’ll be much the same as it’s always been by the time you reach it. Hopefully with a few restaurants still left open. Thanks for following guys, as ever.
I’ve never had much luck eating crab where I had to remove the shells. Was so looking forward to seeing you negotiate the task. Thanks for including the plate pictures. They helped satisfy my visual appetite.
I tried deshelling crab once. Never again! Was actually relieved to eat some simple dishes that day.
Had a king crab once and ended up wearing more and decorating the restaurant walls, great workout though .
It’s a messy frustrating experience eh? Give me those deshelled, battered crab sticks any day of the week.
Haha do they actually contain any of the main ingredient ?
I believe there’s some crab in there somewhere 😉
I adore crab even though it can be quite messy and fiddly to eat. At the seaside here in the UK I like to buy dressed crabs which we all love eating with salad. Singapore chilli crab is one of my favourites too. How is it generally served in Cambodia Leighton?
Ah, a crab connoisseur by the sounds of it! I saw crab in many guises across Cambodia. Battered on sticks, steamed with rice and noodles. And in the fancier restaurants served in a variety of rich sauces, including soy, sweet chili and satay.
What a wonderful market! So interesting to see all the different crab being cooked, prepared and served. And I loved that you refer to Covid as the arch nemesis…I think we would all agree to adding that to its offical title.
And like all arch nemesis, it shall be defeated!
These dogs are looking for food. I would be looking for food there as well. 😋
I guess we were all looking for food! Thanks for reading.
The crabs must be enjoying this time of pandemic, they are being left alone for a while 🙂 It must be a disappointment to come looking forward to a repeat of a good meal and leave without it.
It was a bit disappointing but hey, not the end of the world. Definitely a good time for crabs!
Ah, the hunt for crab turned out successful, after all! It can be frustrating for a local dish to be difficult to track down, and I’ve had a similar experience hunting down sea urchin in Malta (and ended up settling for a few, meager morsels in a plate of pasta…). But it looks like you lucked out and got to relive the tastiness of the country’s seafood!
We were so hungry by the time we sat down at that last place to eat! I don’t often eat seafood so I guess it was still a bit of a treat.
It must have been so weird to return here during the middle of the pandemic and see how different the place looked then vs now.
It was all very surreal yeah. Even more of a ghost town the second time around. Tough times for the vendors of the crab market I’m guessing.
As a seafood lover, this would have been a wonderful find in better times. I’m glad you found something good to eat anyway. Surprised that the various vendors had no interest – perhaps they had pegged you as not big buyers? Or is marketing not much of a thing around there?
Usually market vendors are all over tourists. But last summer, during the pandemic, there was a general air of resignation to people. Plus, they had no crab, so I guess they just gave us a free pass.
The crab there are almost gone nowadays, the decent sized ones anyway. Too much crabbing for the past several years…
Yeah we heard about that, it’s a pity. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
You pay tourist prices at the crab market. Instead, buy them from the vendors along the street next to the beach (in front of the Beach House). Much cheaper….
That’s a good tip! Unfortunately, there were no such vendors during our visits to Kep. I guess they come and go depending on the level of foot traffic.