Fancy some Kampot seaweed salad? How about raw shrimp with Koh Kong sauce? At the Cambodian Cuisine Festival, dozens of traditional dishes from 20 provinces will be prepared by the cooks whose families have passed down the recipes for generations.
The festival, organised by French NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) and the Ministry of Tourism, aims to showcase the diversity of Khmer cuisine.
“We pick up dishes that are typical from each of the provinces,” said PSE communications officer Alexis Guyot. “They are sometimes very difficult to find in Phnom Penh, because in Phnom Penh, we only find the most well known dishes.”
Rim Thida, the manager of PSE’s hospitality training school, identified community members from all over the country known for their traditional cooking and brought them to Phnom Penh for the festival.
Each community in Cambodia has a unique culinary tradition, she said.
“We, for example, have soft noodles in Siem Reap that is different from the other provinces because we have a special sauce. It is very traditional.”
Furthermore, Thida said, it is rare for Cambodians to try recipes from outside their communities.
“Cambodia provides a lot of good food, but most people don’t know each other’s food. When I lived in Siem Reap, I never knew the taste of food from another province. And when I went to Phnom Penh, I never made my noodles [from Siem Reap].”
In a country largely devoid of cookbooks, Thida said that recipes are transmitted orally down the generations, with the mother often the main source for recipes.
“I used to learn from my mother when I lived in Siem Reap, and I know she tried to cook her food with a good taste. When she made the good food, it was not only for the taste but also to show me her love. Because mothers always show their love to the kids.”
However, Guyot said, that reliance on oral transmission puts the recipes in danger of being lost.
“There is very little written memory in Cambodia. All the recipes are transmitted orally, and there are very few books talking about the Cambodian food, so it is going to get lost. And that will be too bad, because Cambodian cuisine is very rich and diversified.”
Guyot said that the Khmer Rouge years were particularly brutal to Cambodia’s culinary traditions.
“People were moved from their hometowns to other provinces, and families were totally destroyed. This oral transmission could not go anymore, because kids could not live with their parents anymore and they were told not to listen to their parents.”
In addition to promoting the preservation of culinary heritage, Guyot said that PSE wants tourists to sample rural Cambodian cuisine.
“A lot of people travel to Cambodia, but they do the same kinds of tours. Very few tourists travel the country extensively, so the idea is to put at one time, one place, an idea of the overall cuisine we can find in the country.”
The Cambodian Cuisine Festival will be held at Olympic Stadium from 5pm till late on March 29 and 30. Admission costs $3 and includes a raffle ticket and free soft drink. Each food and drink item is priced separately. All proceeds go to support PSE’s professional training programmes.