I should probably start this post by saying I am not a big fan of marijuana, it is something I’ve barely touched since my high school days and it’s been a good four years since my last taste (coincidentally the world cup final 2010). This post comes more out of interest as a food writer and it is little more than research into marijuana and its ‘traditional’ use in Khmer cuisine. In honesty I don’t know how true this is but it appears to be a loophole in legislation allowing locals to grow and season food with marijuana. How pizza fits with their proud tradition is beyond me. So first-things-first we go in search of Happy Pizzas in Siem Reap which proves to be a simple task. A quick tuk-tuk ride from anywhere in Siem Reap finds Pub Street and the nearby Hospital Street, a road lined with happy pizza parlors one after another. Hospital Street looks to be the hub for Happy Pizzas but dotted throughout the city we spot a whole lot more, almost like franchising. The professionalism of Happy Pizzas in Siem Reap can be seen in their online presence, websites, free delivery services, advertising on Tuk-Tuks…. Happy Pizzas are in no way trying to hide themselves.
Happy Special Pizza
So I go for the local recommendation of ‘Happy Special Pizza’ one of the better rated pizza parlors on the Hospital Road stretch. I walk to the counter and order a medium sized ham pizza for takeaway. In anticipation of munchies I order one half happy (with marijuana) and the other half plain and boring. Final price $6.50. With or without marijuana the prices don’t change which shows just how cheap this ‘seasoning’ is to supply. I pull out my SLR camera and start snapping evidence of the pizza shop which includes the proprietors who are of an older generation dressed in pyjama-like clothing. They don’t bat an eyelid. In their eyes there’s no wrong doing here, nothing out of the ordinary, just another day selling pizzas. Either way I am still a little unnerved by this somewhat unlikely experience. I order a beer for my wait and take a seat. In my head I remain skeptical “they’re not really going to give me marijuana on my pizza???” So when it arrives I was pleasantly surprised to see it half laced with generous chunks of “Happy”. So what do Happy Pizzas taste like? They taste like pizza topped with marijuana. Not quite oregano but not horrible either. While the herb is in no doubt marijuana it is of low potency and when I arrive back to the hotel we share two slices of happy pizza each and sit under revolving ceiling fans and a chorus of lizards, frogs and insects. For a good 30 plus minutes we sit… bored. For eating marijuana the affects take longer than when smoking and by the time we feel the minor buzz I wished we’d opted for a bottle of wine. Not the most exciting of experiences.
It is said legality of marijuana in Cambodia is little more than face against international pressures (UN and DEA) and on the ground the laws are rarely enforced. In the Netherlands (e.g. Amsterdam) marijuana is also illegal but with tolerance policies it can exist in grey areas. I guess the situation is not so different. That being said I would never recommend testing the laws as corrupt policemen could happily wangle bribes and if you don’t pay up the Cambodian jails don’t come highly recommended. Anyway for the sake of ‘research’ I call again to the Happy Pizzas in search of ingredients with cigarettes. This I am fairly sure is illegal. People look confused as if to say “you want to smoke it??” but this may have been due to my clean-cut, narc-like demeanor. So the 4th is the charm, the proprietor offering ingredients on its own at $15 a bag. Having come thus far I reluctantly fork it over. The lady turns to the fridge pulls out a cool bag of marijuana and hands it over. So I am clueless with marijuana prices… but this bag looks huge (pictured below). With a flight the following morning we find ourselves stuck with a huge bag of marijuana. $15 flushed down our hotel toilet… So again I’ll stress that in no way do I want to promote smoking or buying marijuana and all this comes from personal curiosity. Like most I also find stoners to be irritating and the parasitical nature of drug cultures in Asia have put me off many destinations for travel (e.g. Vang Vieng). At the same time these niche tourists do exist and to putting them where they want to be makes it a lot easier for the rest of us to avoid them.