What is Happy Pizza in Cambodia? It’s pizza with weed on it. Cambodia weed pizza. Weed is happiness. 🙂 I try only one Happy Pizza joint in Siem Reap during my first visit to Cambodia, and so when I return to Cambodia and visit Phnom Penh, it becomes my mission to try them all.
Cambodia is as inspiring as it is challenging. It’s a country where I feel the future. Maybe this is because the population is so young. Young because of atrocities, a round of which in some way connects Cambodian nationality to my own. This makes it quite unlike its neighbor, Thailand. For more on the history and present of Cambodia, highly recommend the documentary Ankor Awakens.
Cambodia is a very poor country, and yet the people are very savvy.
They remind me in some way of New Yorkers. The hustle there has a similar snappy flavor.
On my first trip to Cambodia I meet a fun and inspiring young Cambodian woman who tells me her story of getting from the village where she grew up to Siem Reap, where she now lives. Peach is friendly, and bubbly, and the group of locals we are with always seem to pay for her food and drinks.
She was the only child to her mother who worked to the bone to save up enough money just to get her daughter a ride to the city. She had arranged a person to stay with for the first few months, as well. My friend took the ride.
She left with nothing, not even shoes.
Peach said her mother used to split an egg and some boiled morning glory greens with her, and that was their only food for the day.
On the way to the city, the car broke down. Once it was fixed they decided to go back to the village, but Peach wouldn’t go, she didn’t want to break her mother’s heart by returning. My new friend walked without shoes for a while. Eventually someone passed that took her the rest of the way to Siem Reap. She had no way of finding the person who was supposed to take her in.
She wandered the city for a bit until a kind woman saw that she wasn’t wearing shoes, and that it was getting dark, and took her in. After hearing her story, she found her a job, cleaning a cafe and washing dishes. Peach moved into one room with eight women, paying $15/month for rent.
She works her way up. She lands job after job, and gets advanced training. Now she is working in cell phone sales and has just been hired to manage other salespeople in the same as well as serve as assistant to the Executive Director. I find her story astonishing. She is the face of new Cambodia.
This is told to me on Pub Street in Siem Reap. Party central. Most women that look like Peach are there to find a tourist with money to spend on them. I bristle at sex tourism and the geopolitical and ethnic power dynamics that it reflects. It’s rough to watch.
As I wander away for the night a Cambodian guy stops me and says
“Machine guns? RPG’s?”
“No thank you.” I say smiling. Then I have to say that another 10 times on the walk back to my Couchsurfing host’s place as I am offered tuk-tuks and massage. I just want Cambodia weed pizza, man.
I do shell out the money to visit Ankor Wat and all the other Ankors. Ankor Thom is my favorite. I don’t like ruins. It’s sunny and uncomfortable. I don’t last long at them. I have a tendency to be underwhelmed by major world sights, and instead fascinated by the strange things that happen right near them.
The next day I try the famous Happy Pizza in Cambodia. There are many, many pizza places with identical offerings. They serve you a mini personal size pizza with four slices, and if you wish to get it “happy”, you can do so by specifying how many teaspoons of marijuana they should put on it.
Turns out these mini-pizzas are the perfect size and perfect duration of cooking for decarboxylation. I eat half a pizza, having learned many a time that when it comes to edibles: less is more. I’ve also been traveling in countries that will kill you for weed, so my tolerance is low because there are some risks I don’t take.
It turns out that this is a smart idea, as even this half-pizza has me staring into the Mekong for the next three hours.
The ripples are nice. I try not to think about the history.
After being bombed by many including the US in the Vietnam/American War, the Cambodian communist Kampuchea government turned around and killed almost a quarter of their own people in four years: 1975-1979. They targeted intellectuals, the wealthy, artists, cultural contributors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and the clergy while favoring rural peasants.
No genocide is comprehensible, but I try anyway.
When I visit the Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh what stands out to me in comparing it to the concentration camps I have seen in Germany is the poverty. The Khmer Rouge were too poor to even afford bullets, so they used blunt instruments and bodyweight to kill people. There is, for instance, in the fields, a tree that was specifically used to bash babies on. The baby-killing tree. There are accounts of teeth being stuck to it, which is how they know that toddlers were also disposed of this way.
What a world.
I watch my friend eat Tarantula, fire ants, scorpions, water bugs… The other Cambodian we are hanging out with jokes that Cambodians eat seafood
“Whatever we see, we eat!” we all laugh at this.
“It’s so annoying when Westerners say that Cambodian food is gross.” says Peach.
“I mean, you eat cheese, motherfucker. That’s rotten milk. How is eating an insect more gross than that? How is it more gross than eating shrimp? Such weird standards.”
“I agree. They’re all made up.” I say. I don’t eat the bugs, though. I’m a vegetarian. That’s my made up standard.
In Phnom Penh I eat a lot of other Khmer food though. I make it my mission to try every Happy Pizza place there, which sometimes means more than one per day as I’m only there for a week. There are about a dozen of these places, all named similarly, like “Ecstatic Pizza” or “Happy Herb Pizza”. However, there are also some lovely vegetarian Khmer dishes on the menu that I try “happy”. You can get anything on the menu “happy”, not just Cambodia weed pizza.
Though, I have to admit that the formula works best with pizza. I want to meet the first Cambodian that figured out the perfect model that all other places are built upon. The Happy Pizza Cambodia game is not endless variations on a theme. It’s trying to get as close to the perfect standard of Happiness Delivery as possible. Still, my body cannot tolerate that much pizza, so…
I find my Happy Place with my Happy Shakes: passion fruit smoothie, no sugar, three teaspoons of cannabis.
I drank these a lot.
Like, A LOT.
I note that some of the Happy Pizza places have delivery, and so I have to try that of course. I find it comical and embarrassing communicating over the phone about how much drugs to put on my pizza, and this is indeed the way I learn the Khmer for “three”: Bai.
There is, by the way, a clear winner to the Phnom Penh Happy Pizza contest:
Phnom Penh is only walkable along the river, all other parts of the city are really difficult and uncomfortable to walk in, what with the tuk-tuk and motorbike traffic (Cambodia is leapfrogging from gas-powered motorbikes to hybrid cars, almost every car on the road is a Prius), and all sidewalk space being taken up by street sales. It’s vibrant and fun, but my usual pastime of walking miles when high isn’t available to me.
The Cambodian expectation that urban walking is not something worthwhile is also really handy for being so high I can’t walk. No one expects me to walk anyway. The first few days I try and am constantly asked if I need some kind of ride or help. Once I start just standing around, or even sitting, until a tuk-tuk comes to whisk me off somewhere – I match both the Cambodian way and what they expect of tourists.
It’s hot. Very hot. And dusty, though not nearly as much as it is in Siem Reap. I can see why people don’t want to walk. The cannabis passion fruit smoothies help a lot.
And then, in one of the Happy Pizza places I visit, the waiter tells me he can also sell me some weed, in USD. I ask in what amount, for how much.
“Large or small. Large $13. Small $7.”
“Uh, I’ll take small.” I say, thinking that no matter how much it is, or what quality it is, $7 is not much to pay to get a try of Cambodian weed. I don’t think of the other potential issue I could have, the other end of the spectrum.
First of all the weed is grown in Myanmar, or so he says. Secondly, “small” apparently means like half an ounce in Cambodia. That’s a lot of weed for a weekend.
In Phnom Penh I don’t meet as many Cambodians as I did in Siem Reap, and have no one to leave any excess with that would appreciate it. Hence: the mission to finish the herb commences.
I end up making my OWN passion fruit smoothies, because I can’t possibly go through that much in the period of time left without imbibing it. They cost me about .30/smoothie. Eventually I do make friends, because it’s kind of easy to make Cambodian friends when you have blenderfuls of weed smoothies to share, even if the only thing you can say in Khmer is “three”.
So, if you’re in Phnom Penh and you see multiple almost identically-named places selling Happy Smoothies, that was me.
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