A new Cambodian cookbook is being launched in Phnom Penh on Thursday evening, with all sales benefiting the NGO Caring for Cambodia.
Written by Cambodian-born American Narin Seng Jameson, Cooking the Cambodian Way covers dishes ranging from simple everyday recipes through to cuisine served at royal banquets.
“All proceeds from sales of the book will be dedicated to furthering the development of Cambodia, especially in the areas of education and reading, which are critical for Cambodia’s progress,” says the author, who lives in Bethseda, Maryland and was in the country this week for the book launch.
“I wrote this simple book for all Cambodians – young and old – living abroad,” she says.
“The book was started in 1993 when we were living in Burma. When I left Cambodia for America in 1974, I became homesick for the tastes of home cooking and worked to find the ingredients.
“But then we returned to the United States and I was busy working and raising two teenage boys,” says Seng Jameson.
“Two years ago, I started giving the draft to colleagues and friends who loved it, so we went ahead with publication – my first book,” says the author, 66, during an interview while she was on the road from Siem Reap to Battambang.
“My husband, who’s a perfectionist, edited the book. I’m hoping sales of the book will raise at least $20,000 for Caring for Cambodia, which educates children in eight schools in Siem Reap province.”
All profits from the book will go to the NGO founded by Jamie Amelio, which has built eight schools, five libraries and helped to educate nearly 6,000 children in Siem Reap province. The group has also given away 15,000 toothbrushes to encourage personal hygiene, and bought 1,250 bicycles so their students can reach school.
“They also send their teachers for further training in Singapore to improve the standard of spoken English,” says Seng Jameson.
She’s promoting the health benefits of traditional ingredients in Cambodian cuisine such as bitter melon, eggplant, tamarind and pepper.
“Even after emigrating to the US nearly 40 years ago, and after following my spouse on assignments overseas as a Foreign Service Officer, I have remained true to my Cambodian cooking roots at dinners and receptions,” says Seng Jameson.
“Everything we eat is nutritious and has a specific health function. According to the elders, pepper is good for a new mother because it helps reconstitute the blood after childbirth, ginger helps beautify the complexion, and eggplant helps in lactating,” she writes in the book’s opening chapters.
Princess Royal Bopha Devi has written a foreward, hoping the book will “recall the old tradition of cooking before the use of shortcuts and substitutes, which lack the refined Cambodian taste. I am sure food lovers, Cambodian as well as others, will enjoy the anecdotes of memories and the way Cambodian youth spent their time during the peaceful years of Cambodia, the 50s and 60s,” writes the princess.
Fish is the main dietary staple. “The people of Cambodia do not have to go to the market for their everyday meal because fish is always available in the nearest pond or rice paddy,” Seng Jameson writes.
Her book mostly focuses on casual food that can be enjoyed every day.
Those who attend the book launch may be able to try some traditional snacks made especially by the author. Cooking the Cambodian Way, $25, will be launched by author Narin Seng Jameson at Monument Books, 111 Norodom Boulevard, on Thursday, February 10, at 6pm.