Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Eating Ambok: Folktales and customs of the Water Festival



Eating Ambok: Folktales and customs of the Water Festival

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Villagers prepare Ambok in Kampong Thom province’s Kampong Svay district. Hong Menea

Eating Ambok: Folktales and customs of the Water Festival

The Water Festival aligns with the date of the full moon in the Khmer lunar calendar month of Kadeuk (or Kartika in Sanskrit) when the rice crops in paddy fields are ready for harvest.

Besides being a staple food in the Kingdom, rice also plays an important role in the festival, with coconut and banana rice snack Ambok sold throughout the festive period.

As the Water Festival (Bon Om Touk in Khmer) approaches, motorists who pass through a stretch of National Road 6 in Kampong Thom province’s Kampong Svay district will notice busy villagers cooking Ambok and selling it along the road.

Kampong Thom provincial governor Sok Lou told The Post: “Besides Kampong Svay, other places such as Baray district also produce Ambok, but none are as well-known for the snack as Kampong Svay.”

This year, Ambok has been placed under the spotlight by Prime Minister Hun Sen. He has called on the public to enjoy the traditional snack together on November 9 “for the protection of the nation, religion and King”.

Lou said: “The provincial administration will prepare nearly two tonnes of Ambok. We will celebrate the event at Steung Sen garden and will be giving out Ambok to residents and travellers for free.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Besides being a staple food in the Kingdom, rice also plays an important role in the Water Festival, with coconut and banana rice snack Ambok sold throughout the festive period. Hong Menea

Folktale of the Water Festival

Other than the custom of eating Ambok during the Water Festival, Cambodians also observe the traditions of Ork Ambok and Sampeah Preah Khe.

Ork Ambok is the offering of Ambok to the moon, whereas Sampeah Preah Khe refers to the salutation of the moon. Both customs are a commemoration of a Buddha called Pouthesat.

As the legend goes, one day long ago, a Buddha was reincarnated as a rabbit called Pouthesat. Every full moon, this holy rabbit dedicated his life to someone who wanted to become a Buddha.

One full moon, the god Preah Ean found out about this, took the form of an old man and asked Pouthesat if he could eat him.

The rabbit agreed to give his life but the old man said: “This rabbit has observed moral precepts for a long time, so he cannot be killed.”

Then the rabbit jumped into a fire to kill himself so the old man could eat him.

Though, before Pouthesat jumped into the fire, he quietly wished to stay in the moon forever after his death.

According to the legend, we can still see the rabbit in the middle of the moon today.

Other than the folktale of Pouthesat, an interesting geographical phenomenon occurs during the Water Festival, which is the reversal of the flow between the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.

As a result of the rainy season, the Tonle Sap river swells with water, reversing the direction of its flow upstream to Tonle Sap lake.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Celebrated for centuries

The Water Festival has been celebrated in the Kingdom for centuries, with evidence found on etchings at Bayon and Banteay Chhmar temple walls.

With its roots going way back to the Angkorian-era Khmer empire, the kings in ancient times sent many naval forces to countless battles to defend the empire.

Today, boat races are held during the Water Festival to represent the force of the Khmer navy and the victories they achieved.

Taking inspiration from Pouthesat the holy rabbit, an officer of Horoscope Research and Tradition in the Ministry of Religions and Cults Vay Vibol, hopes the folktale serves as a reminder to Cambodians for them to sacrifice for a greater good.

He wishes all that Cambodians celebrating the Water Festival will observe the tradition of eating Ambok together, and it take it as a show of unity.

“I want only peace because our nation went through great pain and miseries [during the Khmer Rouge era].

“I want this day of eating Ambok to serve as a reminder of the importance of unity to maintain the harmonious ambience in our country for continuous development,” said Vibol.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year