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