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Holiday in Cambodia

As J. Frankfurter mentioned earlier, we have been somewhat delinquent in posting as of late.  Not to make excuses, but life has been very busy for both of us these past couple of weeks.  I’ve been preoccupied with trying to clear my docket because I will soon leave for a two-week vacation in Cambodia.

With my trusty cameras (yes, plural) and shiny new netbook in tow, I plan to blog parts of my trip — focusing on the culinary portions, naturally.  Keep your fingers crossed for WiFi.

Just to give you a sneak peak, I will now provide a primer on Cambodian food.  Khmer cuisine is similar to the cuisines of Thailand and Vietnam but often characterized, rightly or wrongly, as less favorful and less spicy than that of its neighbors.  Khmer cuisine has also been influenced by India (see: curry), France (see: baguette, coffee and pâté) and China (see: noodles and/or everything in Asia).

Rice is, of course, a staple part of the Khmer diet.  Many Cambodian dishes are flavored with prahok, a pungent fermented fish paste, as well as kroeung, a spice paste that blends ingredients such as lemon grass, kaffir lime zest and leaves, galangal, tumeric, ginger, garlic, shallots and chilis.

National dishes that use prahok and kroeung include samlor kako (a soup heavy on the vegetables), samlor machu (a sour soup flavored with tamarind that is similar to Vietnamese canh chua) and amok (some protein — likely fish, chicken or tofu — steamed in a coconut curry in banana leaves). 

Here in New York, where we can pretty much get whatever we want, whenever we want, there is a striking absence of Cambodian restaurants in comparison to the numerous Thai and Vietnamese options.  Is it because Cambodia lost an entire generation due to the Khmer Rouge, leaving few to pass on the knowledge of Cambodian cuisine to the surviving generations?  Or is it because Americans are not familiar enough with Cambodia in general to accept its food?  Matthew Fishbane has an interesting article over on Salon about the lack of Cambodian food in the U.S.

My travel companion for the trip (hereinafter, “Edna Krabappel”) has never been to Southeast Asia.  In addition to write-ups about Khmer cuisine as prefaced above, future posts will also include her reaction to trying certain fruits native to the area including jackfruit, rambutan, longan, sour sop, mangosteen and the ever infamous durian (J. Frankfurter’s favorite; his wife has a differing opinion).  Let’s just see if Ms. Krabappel is brave enough to try the deep-fried tarantula!

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  1. cj
    July 6, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    re: possible reason for dearth of cambodian restaurants – i say yes. at least in part. when i was in cambodia, i felt the loss/absence of skilled workers/leadership/educators/etc was palpable. you travel around and wonder why the options for eating, the arts, architecture, and everything under the sun aren’t…frankly, better. big reason to support a lot of the orgs that are working so hard to educate and train skilled workers to re-establish some of what’s been lost. eg, higher prices at l’artisan d’angkor (or whatever it’s called) might be worth it just to support the cause.

    and don’t forget – best food to be had at khmer kitchen!

  2. Bergie
    July 3, 2010 at 9:07 PM

    Looking forward to your travelogue from the SE. Enjoy!

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