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The legacy of Khmer cuisine

The legacy of Khmer cuisine


Cambodia is a gastronomic haven. Photograph: Menghourng Ngo/Phnom Penh Post

Every country in the world has symbols of its identity: flag, culture, tradition. So does Cambodia! Khmer cuisine and how we use ingredients is an important part of our identity.

In this new era, young Cambodian citizens seem confused about what Khmer food is and how to cook it but fast-food is a popular choice.

According to the official handbook of the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodian culinary secrets are rarely written down. The recipes are instead handed down from mother to daughter.

The handbook also states that Khmer cuisine includes: “Noodles, soups, grills, stir-fried, curries, salads, desserts, a lot of vegetables, tropical fruits, and of course rice which is the staple food for Cambodians.”

Khoeun Sambat, project manager of the International Cooking School in Phnom Penh said that Khmer food uses a lot of ingredients, including fish-paste, turmeric powder, cinnamon, and star anise.

“In the ASEAN foods competition, Khmer foods such as Phumi Kokor have won prizes because we use fresh lemongrass and Khmer chickens,” he said. “Proheur soup is new identity for Khmer food.”

He added that foreigners tend to recognize Amok, Kokor soup, Proheur Soup, Pra-hok and Khmer noodles.

“Cambodian citizens place a higher value on foreign food than their own cuisine. By contrast, foreigners appreciate our foods by eating them,” he said. “If we don’t promote our food, foreign foods will be more popular,” he said.

Dok Sinara, head of the Restaurant Office & Secretariat of H.C.C. of the Ministry of Tourism, said that she was not concerned about losing the identity of Khmer food, because when teenagers grow up they will prefer to eat Khmer food.

“In Cambodia, 90.9% of restaurants sell Khmer foods,” she said.

She added that the Ministry of Tourism tries to promote Khmer foods through big events such as a beach festival, ASEAN meetings, and other important events outside the country.

“We encourage all the restaurants and hotels to put the names of Khmer foods into the menu,” she said. “We want to boost the name of Khmer foods among both local and international guests.”

Luu Meng, an owner of Malis restaurant and a Khmer food chef said: “We opened Malis restaurant because we wanted to serve local and international customers with Khmer foods. We want to hold on to the identity of Khmer food.”

Malis always serves foreigners with Khmer foods so as to promote our cuisine.

“I do not worry about losing identities of Khmer foods. Although young teenagers love eating fast-food, when they are getting old they will change to eat Khmer food,” Luu Meng said.

Friends International is an organization which helps protect the identity of Khmer foods by providing free cooking training to street children, vulnerable children, homeless children, drug users, and children, who live with HIV/AIDS.

Friends International hosted an exhibition about Khmer food, and published the Khmer cooking book From Spiders to Water Lilies, which was awarded winner of Best Asian Cookbook in the Gourmand World Cook Book Awards 2009.

Kong Karona, 27, a communication officer of Friends International in Cambodia, said, “The staff of Friends International have conducted research on Khmer food in every province, commune, and village in order to make this book.”

“We will plan to provide this book to the libraries in Cambodia in order to preserve the identity of Khmer foods.”