TRADITIONAL Khmer food has a close relationship with Cambodian culture. There are many sculptures on the Bayon temple depicting the cooking process and the life of people during that time. Today, foreign food has a big influence on our society, and some young people have turned their interest to it.
Hor Sokuntheary, 23, a fourth-year student at the Institute of Foreign Languages, says she seldom orders Khmer food when she goes to restaurants. She usually eats foreign food such as Japanese, Korean and Chinese, and especially suki soup two or three times a week.
“I prefer foreign food to Khmer food because it’s delicious and convenient, and the restaurant’s environment is comfortable,” she says.
And it’s not just eating foreign food that attracts young people. Some of them are so fascinated by it that they decide to study it.
Hoan Kenshon, 22, has taken a course in foreign food and has been a chef of Tepui restraurant at Chinese House for six months. He says that although he knows how to cook both Khmer food and foreign food, what he is fond of, and specialises in, is foreign food.
“I like foreign food because it’s simple but it has standards,” says Hoan Kenshon, who admits that in the future he wants to own a foreign-food restaurant.
Even though nowadays some young people are interested in eating foreign food, some who live in the provinces can’t afford to eat it because most foreign food is expensive.
“Khmer food still exists, and is popular among Khmer people,” Sapor Rendall, owner of the Sapor Cooking School, says.
Chhoun Nori, a deputy director of culture development, says young Cambodians are quick to absorb elements of foreign culture, including food.
“They want to taste something new, and they also want to show how fashionable they are,” she says.
Chhoun Nori adds that for traditional Khmer food to be preserved, young people have to know who they are.
Therefore, they need to have a sense of belonging to Cambodia – and parents can play a crucial role in this by teaching their children about food and advancing Khmer cuisine, she says.
“Families have a big impact on conserving Khmer traditional food.” Chhoun Nori says.
Vong Satum, 51, a housewife who can cook both Khmer and foreign food, says it’s good for every parent to teach their children how to cook Khmer food. “I usually teach my children to cook Khmer food because we are Khmer, so we have to know it.”
The media is also a means of helping to preserve Khmer food. Tith Thavrith, a deputy director of Bayon radio and television stations, says there is a food program on Bayon television that features recipes for both foreign and Khmer food.
He says some Cambodian young people are influenced by foreign cultures, so they want to try foreign food, but they should not forget traditional Khmer cuisine, which was the food of their ancestors.
“It’s good to create a TV program that helps preserve traditional Khmer cuisine while giving young people the opportunity to compete with one another and learn about their ancestors’ food,’’ Tith Tavrith says.
“I will make this program occur if we can get support and sponsors.”
These days, many cultures influence Cambodia dramatically, and we live in an era of globalisation, so there is no reason for us to prevent it flowing into our country or to ban young people from eating foreign food.“On behalf of the department of culture, we have celebrated the Khmer food festival 10 times already,” Chhoun Nori says.
“The purpose of these festivals is to promote Khmer food, exhibit different local foods and let young people understand about Khmer food.”
Chhoun Nori says there are more than 340 types of Khmer food, according to a recipe book published in the 1970s.
“The impacts always occur when our young people pay no attention to Khmer food because some of them get confused about the origins of Khmer food; they think some Khmer foods are foreign.”