Sun-warmed cockles common on Phnom Penh’s streets

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Cockles, salty or spiced, are available from mobile vendors throughout Phnom Penh.

Wherever I go in Phnom Penh, especially near teeming local food markets, I often come upon vendors pushing wooden carts with cockles spread on the flat beds.

Many of us undoubtedly have heard of cockles, but I, for one, had to look at Wikipedia for a definition:

A cockle is a small, edible, saltwater clam, a marine bivalve mollusc. Although many small edible bivalves are loosely called cockles, true cockles are species in the family Cardiidae. True cockles live in sandy, sheltered beaches throughout the world.

Looking weary to me and usually with their skin covered from head to toe, the sellers, mostly women, trudge much of the day under our relentless sun.

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I one day stumbled upon this place, where cockle sellers go to acquire their wares wholesale.

The sellers start their day in the out-of-the-way location in the photo above.  There, cockles are presumably cleaned and certainly half-cooked in vats.  What I learned in a Phnom Penh Post article is a host of detail, to which I commend your attention.

The most arresting fact for me was that the bivalves are only half-cooked, with the sun enlisted to finish the process.  At what time of day the cockles are ready to eat is a mystery to me.

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Women dressed like this are typical vendors, and they can be seen all around the Cambodia’s capital.  The small collection of cockles in the back are the spicy ones, reddened with chilli pepper.

The vendors’ days must be punishingly long, trudging as they do from the pickup site to their favored locations around the city.  When their inventory is gone, so are they.

I never have seen demonstrably middle- or upper-class Cambodians buying the things. Normally, cockles seem to be snacks for under-educated construction workers, cleaners, security guards and other lower-level employees.

Cockles are dispensed in small plastic bags — as are many items, including some beverages.  While they are being filled or beforehand, customers will sample a couple, sucking out the flesh and dropping the shells on the ground.

cockle seller with hair

I passed this guy once but neglected to snap my own photo. Whether his, um, unusual hairstyle is a boon or a bust is hard for me to say, though his continued flamboyance suggests that it works pretty well.  (Source: Tara Rose on Facebook)

I must confess that such cockles are one treat I have yet to try.  In fact, I am quite certain that I never will.

E-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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