Buying crab in Sihanoukville can be a nightmare for the novice, but as long as you go in with a game plan and keep your guards up, you can still come out unscathed. Now, you’ll need to be prepared and bring along either a 500ml or 1L bottle of water; make sure it’s filled with water, an empty bottle won’t help. You’ll find out why later.
First let’s talk about where. You have two main options when buying fresh crab here; Phsar Leu, the main market, or a collection of wooden huts just across from the port on the way out of town. The collection of huts is actually the better choice as they see fewer tourists and therefore it is easier to get a better price. In my opinion, they also tend to have larger and fresher crabs.
Don’t be daunted by the initial prices of US$10 and US$12 the sellers tell you. The average going rate for a kilo of good sized crab is about US$6. I’ve watched my Khmer girlfriend and her sister shop and they are able to get them for as low as US$5.00, but with my white skin and broken Khmer, I usually wind up paying US$6.25 at the market and US$6.00 near the port. So stick to your guns and bargain. If the seller won’t come down, don’t be afraid to leave and check out the other vendors. Just make sure to keep smiling the whole time. Smiling and being friendly will help in any transaction in Cambodia.
May the Best Man Win
Now that you have agreed on a price, the real battle of the wits begins. Get ready because the seller is going to just start throwing crabs in a bucket for you. You need to stop them and inspect each crab you buy. The quality of the crab varies wildly from one to the next. Pick up the crab and squeeze its butt. You want to make sure your crabs are really active and they should flail their legs. You also want to feel some meat when you squeeze it; if it depresses a lot it’s skinny and won’t have a lot of meat inside. The bright blue crabs are the males and the darker, brownish ones are female. The males are bigger, but the females tend to be meatier. I like to get a mix of the two.
Once you have finished picking your crabs the seller will dump them into a plastic bag, but you’ll need to quickly stop them once again. Make sure to take a look inside the bag, many of the sellers will sneak two or three dead crabs into the bag before they start filling them. Next, the bottle of water comes in handy as another trick of the sellers is to adjust their scale so the crabs appear to weigh more than they actually do. Have the seller put your bottle of water on their scale; 500mL should weigh half a kilo and 1L should weigh 1kg. Also make sure that you can see the scale to verify the weight.
That’s it. The battle is over. You’ve bargained for a reasonable price, picked the best crabs, avoided getting stuck with old, dead crabs, and even gotten the amount you’ve paid for. All that’s left to do is go home and start cooking.