For the past decade, 25 chefs from across Cambodia have brought their provincial delights to the capital for the annual Cambodian Cuisine Festival, hosted by NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant.
Now they are transferring their local recipes from the plate to the pages of a new cookbook of regional cuisines, Culinary Traditions of Cambodia, in a bid to document the Kingdom’s diverse food heritage.
Phok Samnang, who oversaw production of the book for PSE, said that the specialised knowledge of each chef was crucial in collecting the 70 recipes that make up the cookbook.
“They know their own areas and they know the local food practices very well,” he said. “This means they can conduct in-depth research, speaking to villagers and other chefs to collect all of the recipes.”
The purpose of Culinary Traditions of Cambodia was not only to exhibit the cuisine of Cambodia, but to preserve it, he added.
“Some recipes almost died because they had no chance to be handed down,” he said. “This is why we did the research and actually went out to the areas where the recipes come from. We wanted to collect them before they disappeared completely.”
It is this research that distinguishes Culinary Traditions of Cambodia. The expertise that each chef has in their own province means they are able to uncover unusual and even previously unknown recipes.
“We didn’t want to focus on just one location, or Cambodian cuisine in general,” Samnang said. “We wanted to look at all the different provinces closely so we could find recipes that were hidden within them.”
Samnang said some of the resulting discoveries took him by surprise. There was one paste in particular, a combination of shredded fish, prahok, krosang fruit and chilli, that he and the others had never heard of before.
“The paste is called Kantuy Hes, from Pursat province,” he said. “And before this research, not so many people knew about it, including me, even including most of the chefs.”
As the name suggests, the book also captures the traditions and lifestyles that surround food production in the different regions of Cambodia. Bold photographs of marketplaces, rice fields and local kitchens offer a visual feast alongside the recipes.
“How people work to produce food is important,” Samnang said. “So it is not just food, it is the process too, harvesting and producing in rice or salt fields, even the traditions of street foods and the markets.”
Eventually, PSE hopes to translate the cookbook into Khmer, so the recipes can be shared with the locals of each province. This way, Samnang says, the culinary traditions have less chance of being lost again.
“We want to translate this book into Khmer because we want the Cambodian people to read this book as well. We don’t want the recipes to be kept hidden from Cambodian people.”
PSE will launch Culinary Traditions of Cambodia during a special dinner event at the Plantation Hotel at 6pm tonight. Tickets cost $20 and include food, a drink, entertainment and a copy of the cookbook, which usually retails at $40.
The dinner will feature 20 of the recipes found in the cookbook, so guests can taste the dishes before they try to create them. Profits from the cookbook go towards PSE projects.
Guests must book to secure a seat. Tel: 016 633 089.