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Late Princess’ Khmer cookbook honoured

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The Culinary Art of Cambodia Cookbook won the special award of the jury at the World Cookbook Fair on June 3. SUPPLIED

Late Princess’ Khmer cookbook honoured

The recipe book Culinary Art of Cambodia was granted a special jury award at the 27th World Cookbook Fair held by Gourmand International on June 3 in Umea, Sweden.

Beginning in 1995, this contest has celebrated the best food culture books and TV programmes around the planet with 225 countries and almost as many languages represented.

The award was received by Cheng Somonea, general manager of Templation Angkor Resort in Siem Reap and the force behind the publication of the richly illustrated book, which was done on a non-profit basis and offers some 500 recipes in the English and Khmer languages.

The book is printed and bound in Cambodia.

Sixty years ago, Princess Norodom Rasmi Sobbhana – the great-aunt of King Norodom Sihamoni – started collecting and refining Khmer recipes.

A first collection in English and French was released in Phnom Penh in 1960 with numerous additions appended to it in Khmer and serialised in the Royal Family Bulletin.

“Princess Rasmi Sobbhana not only adapted the recipes of the countryside to the royal table. In those post-colonial times, she also was a passionate educator and advocate for the promotion of women in a young country.

“Her students at the first school for girls in Cambodia still remember her as ‘Samdech Kanitha’ – a term both respectful and warm since it literally means ‘Her Excellency Beloved Little Sister’,” said Somonea.

Princess Sobbhana died in 1971, and soon thereafter Cambodia was engulfed in America’s war in Vietnam and its own civil war. Her books disappeared, surviving only in the form of a few facsimiles and in the national archives which escaped destruction.

In 2019, it was decided to find this invaluable treasure and gather it into a comprehensive edition for the first time, so it was accessible to present-time readers and cooks. Culinary Art of Cambodia is indeed a substantial cookbook reflecting the rich tradition of Cambodian cuisine, but also a labor of love and a way for Cambodia’s younger generations to reconnect to their cultural heritage and history after the gap opened by war and conflict, she said

“The project met with an enthusiastic response from Cambodian chefs and researchers, and the general public. With a network of volunteers for its distribution, the not-for-profit publication has already generated enough proceeds to fund the Samdech Rasmi Sobbhana Scholarship, aimed at helping young Cambodian women to access higher education,” she added.

The book came into existence thanks to the active support of members of the Cambodian Royal Family, in particular Her Royal Highness Princess Norodom Marie and His Royal Highness Prince Sisowath Tesso. The contribution of the ‘Heritage Sisters’, Mesdames Men Chandevy, Men Sodany and Men Sotheavy, who expertly re-created several recipes to illustrate the book, was also essential.

This prestigious award reflects the growing attention Cambodia’s cuisine is gaining worldwide. Along with this book, the Gourmand Awards recognized The Taste of Angkor, Chef Sopheak’s collection of recipes sponsored by the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

“I am very proud for this award as it recognises a long period of work and research. Initiated by Bernard Cohen, I joined this project with Neak Moneang Sisowath Chandevy and her sisters. We were all motivated to remember the legacy of Princess [Sobbhana]. We are happy that all benefits are going to the Rasmi Sobbhana association that was created by HRH Princess Marie”, Prince Tesso Sisowath told The Post after seeing the cookbook awarded.

“Congratulations to the whole team behind Culinary Art of Cambodia for the Special Jury Award granted at the 27th World Cookbook Fair-Gourmand International in Umea, Sweden,” he added.

Cohen, the cookbook’s editor and founder of Angkor Database – an online non-profit educational resource that provides free access to media related to Cambodian history and culture like books, photos and films – told The Post that he was ‘proud and honoured’ to receive the award.

“For us, and for the people of the foreign ministry who are promoting their own publication, The Taste of Angkor, it shows the growing global interest in Cambodian cuisine. I’d like to stress again that this initiative is purely not-for-profit: all sales proceeds are going to the Samdech Rasmi Sobbhana Scholarship,” he added.

With a recommended price of $21, all proceeds will go to the Sobbhana foundation and Wat Rasmi Sobbhana, the Kandal Province pagoda named after the Princess. ISBN 13 978-9924-9540-0-2. A publication by Templation Angkor Resort and Angkor Database.

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