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Singer-songwriter Lisa Concepcion is one of more than 5,000 Filipinos living in Cambodia.
Singer-songwriter Lisa Concepcion is one of more than 5,000 Filipinos living in Cambodia. Pha Lina

Getting to know the neighbours

The culture of Cambodia’s more than 5,000 expat Filipinos is set to be celebrated this month with a series of activities held to coincide with the country’s Independence Day on June 12.

Organised by the Embassy of the Philippines in Phnom Penh, the activities kick off today and include food festivals, a fashion show, lectures on Philippine culture, a film festival and a fun-filled fiesta at Koh Pich.


Filipino food has a variety of strong influences based on the Philippines’ history, said Filipino celebrity chef Jam Melchor, who developed the menus for this month’s food festivals at Digby’s and Aeon Mall.

“We were conquered by the Spanish for hundreds of years and then Americans and Japanese, so we have these different cultural influences, and prior to that, we have our ancestors, who had their own regional cuisines back then,” Melchor said.

Of these, the Spanish influence was most dominant, he said, seen in dishes like the Filipino version of paella called biringhe – which uses tumeric, coconut milk and glutinous rice – and sisig, which is diced and fried pig face and liver with white and red onions and local lime.

The influence of Chinese cooking was also very strong, with every region in the Philippines having their own variety of pancit, or noodles.

“Adobo is the national dish, but there’s not really a standardised recipe for it,” Melchor said. “Everyone has his or her own way of making adobo, but in general, it’s braised pork or chicken marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, peppercorns, lots of garlic and onion.

“It’s the easiest dish you can think of.

There’s chicken and pork everywhere. It’s a comfort food.”

The food festival at Digby’s and Aeon Mall will come in the form of a special menu of selected Filipino dishes.

At Digby’s, dishes will include grilled seafood with Philippine mango, pili nuts, cucumber, sweet basil and vinaigrette; pork belly; adobo; noodles with stir-fried pork and vegetables; and halo-halo, a melange of sweetened fruits, yams, pulses and egg custard with milk and crushed ice.

The spread at Aeon Mall will be even more varied and include a whole roast suckling pig.

Melchor said his goal was to “mainstream” Philippine cuisine.

“It is really hard to describe what Filipino cuisine is ... but it is us,” he said. “We are a mixture of different cultures. Eventually, and I hope it’s going to be soon, Filipino cuisine will be like Thai or Chinese.

“It will be one of the things that has a global market.”

The Philippines Minister of Culture and Arts is also coming to Phnom Penh to open a small cultural centre at the Philippine embassy and to sign a cultural agreement with his Cambodian counterpart.

“Like any other country, we want to propagate our culture, or at least make the locals aware of how rich our culture is,” said Ambassador Christopher Montero this week. “I think we have a lot to offer.”

He said such “soft diplomacy” efforts could have benefits to trade and official diplomatic relations between the two countries by creating greater mutual understanding and familiarity.

Bilateral trade between Cambodia and the Philippines grew from $20 million in 2013 to $100 million in 2014.

“The prospects are bright in that area,” Montero said.

As of this week, 5,141 Filipinos were registered with the embassy as living in Cambodia, he said, with another 1,000 or so “just roaming around here that we’re not aware of”.

Their presence is most obvious in the city’s music scene. Several venues – such as the Hotel Cambodiana and Riverhouse – have Filipino house bands, and most of the foreign bands regularly gigging around town have at least one member from the Philippines.

However, according to Montero, the majority of Phnom Penh’s Filipinos were employed in managerial positions in the hospitality, NGO and garment manufacturing sectors or taught English, one of the two official languages of the Philippines.

Montero said for Cambodia to remain competitive with other ASEAN countries, it needed the skills provided by Filipino workers.

“It’s important to bring in foreign talent to fill skill gaps,” he said. “If Cambodia wants to leapfrog and not be left behind, they need to bring in talent.”

Lisa Concepcion, 25, came to Cambodia from the Philippines four years ago on a mission from her church and taught English for two years.

She now works in marketing and communications for social events company SocialVents while in her spare time performs solo playing guitar and singing at various venues around Phnom Penh.

“The lifestyle is easier here,” she said when asked why she stuck around after finishing her church mission. “I’m also a musician, and it’s much easier to get into the Cambodian music scene than it is in the Philippines.”

Concepcion said the Filipino expat community in Phnom Penh was fractured into different industries. Most of those who worked in the garment sector lived in a gated community on the outskirts of the city, near the factories.

“In Phnom Penh, we’re a bit scattered,” she said. “But the musicians do gather. We have dinners and lunches and stuff. Other groups play basketball or do other sports together.”

A delicate prawn, mango and pili nut salad (left) and a hearty pork and chicken adobo
A delicate prawn, mango and pili nut salad (left) and a hearty pork and chicken adobo. Kimberley McCosker

Aside from music, food was another big part of the culture in the Philippines, she said.

“Filipinos, whenever we gather, there’s always food. It’s part of Filipino hospitality.”

Montero said Philippine food – like its culture – was heavily influenced by the Spanish, Malays, Americans and Chinese.

“It’s really a fusion of international cuisine, and to that extent, it makes it unique” he said, adding that Filipinos excelled at incorporating other cultures and then exporting them – like English-language skills and pop music.

But what about the Philippines’ most famous cultural export, Manny Pacquiao?

While the 10-time world champion boxer and congressman won’t be here during the Independence Day celebrations, Montero said he was trying to pull some strings to have him visit Cambodia before the elections in the Philippines next year.

“We’ll see if he can fit it in his schedule,” he said.

Linamnam Philippine Food
Festival Filipino food and in-store promotion of Filipino snack foods.
Digby’s, #197 Street 63. June 6 and 7

Philippine Film Festival
Anac Ti Pating (Son of a Shark) at 11:40am, Ang Tag-Araw Ni Twinkle (Twinkle’s Summer) at 1:30 pm and Bamboo Flowers at 3:45pm. All free of charge and with English subtitles.
AEON Mall. June 13

Linamnam Philippine Food Festival
Philippine food with live Philippine musical entertainment.
Khmer World Food Court at Aeon Mall. June 13-20

Barrio Fiesta 2015
Free cultural performances, raffle draws, parlour games, videoke challenge, beauty pageants and dinner.
Hall F, Koh Pich Theater. June 14, 3pm

Philippine Society in an ASEAN Community
Lecture by Felipe de Leon, chair of the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
Venue TBC. June 19, 9am

Being Filipino
Public Lecture by Felipe de Leon.
Embassy of the Philippines. June 19, 6pm

High Tea with Women in Business
Will feature a fashion demonstration of banaca wraps.
Venue TBC. June 30, 3pm

For more details call 098 888 920 or 098 888 529.



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