“Sea to table in 10 minutes!” is how my travel partner very accurately summarised our experience at the Kep Crab Market. At this amazing little sea town in Southern Cambodia, you can eat fresh crab either right at the market itself or at one of the many restaurants surrounding it – my favorite: Holy Crab Kep, where the food is as good and creative as the name of the place (see bottom of this post for pictures)!
Personally, I admired the efficiency of the “assembly line” for our lunch. We had barely finished picking our crabs from the basket that was pulled out of the sea for us, when our crab vendor lady passed our catch of the day to a cook, who took them to a large cooking area at the other end of the market where our crabs where going to be cooked in a large cauldron on wood fire. While we waited for them to be ready, other vendors offered us a spot to sit and brought us side dishes: Rice, chill dip and a sort of papaya chutney. Our lunch was on the table – in the middle of the market with great views to watch all the action – in less than ten minutes.
We dug in. And were impressed! The crab was fresh and sweet, and the little side dishes complimented the flavour perfectly. The crab vendors weren’t that impressed with us though, apparently we were making fools of ourselves not really knowing how to take them apart by hand. The Cambodians are lovely helpful people though, as we discovered many times on our trip, and one of the vendors sat down with us to show us how to take them apart.
About Kep and the Kep Crab Market
Kep is a little seaside town on the South coast of Cambodia, about 20km from the Vietnamese border. Before the Khmer Rouge years, it was the most popular seaside resort in Cambodia and was visited by both the French and Cambodians. A lot of the buildings were stripped down and abandoned during the Khmer Rouge time, partly by the Khmer Rouge, but also by the house owners themselves as they sold their possessions and anything they could strip from the house to the Vietnamese in order to pay for food.
Today, the town still has many abandoned buildings, but it’s also growing again. We visited on a holiday weekend and the beach was packed with families having a Sunday picnic. International tourism is also growing, with lots of boutique hotels and guest houses opening up in the area.
The Crab market is one of Kep’s main attractions for international travellers. It’s just a small market, but the hustle and bustle of the fresh crab vending is fun to watch and join in. Today, the crab market doesn’t just sell crab, but also all sorts of other seafood, meat, fruit, vegetables and snacks like waffles and grilled or cooked food that’s ready to eat right there and then.
How to order & eat crabs at the Kep Crab Market
Head to the sea end of the market, you’ll see vendors pulling crab cages out of the sea and people choosing their crabs. We paid 5 USD for a kilo of crabs with cooking and dips included, plus an extra 1000 KHR (Cambodian Riel, about 25 cents) for the rice. You might be able to negotiate more, but often the crab cages aren’t pulled out from the sea until after you’ve agreed on a per kilo price and you may get a better choice if you don’t negotiate too hard. Our vendor lady ended up giving us a few extra crabs, which were very welcome!
They will offer to cook it for you, just make sure you know whether you’re paying extra for it or not when you agree on the price. Once the crab is cooked, you can sit down on the long rows of tables and benches, and other market vendors will likely come to you to offer you side dishes and drinks.
As for taking the crabs apart and eating them, clearly we didn’t do that great. Copy the local people at your neighbouring tables. If you’re as terrible at it as we were, rest assured someone will come to your help.
Once you’re done, take a stroll through the market for dessert. There are a few waffle vendors who make amazing coconut waffles, and the usual fruit sellers. Coconut waffles with mango and pineapple make a great dessert combo!
If you want a more upscale lunch
If eating with your hands in the middle of a market with dogs and live chickens walking about isn’t your thing, or you’re in Kep for several days and are looking for a different experience, head to one of the many restaurants right next to the market (walking towards the city from the market). Pretty much all of them will serve you fresh crab dishes and other seafood. Pick a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the sea for lunch or dinner with a great view. My recommendation: Kep crabs and Kampot pepper were made for each other. Order a Kampot pepper crab dish and you won’t be disappointed.
We had our Kampot pepper crab at “Holy Crab” (pun clearly intended) and it was delicious.