Food for the soul: Resurrecting Cambodia’s forgotten cuisine
4:20 AM EDT, Fri April 28, 2017
Ly San, a 29-year-old Cambodian lawyer who was born in Siem Reap, started researching Khmer cuisine while studying in France. He traveled the country learning about lost recipes from elderly Cambodians.
Bok Sach Koo, by grandma Sok Thiklom —
"I really love Khmer food and it is really hard to find it anywhere else in the world," says San. "I missed Cambodian foods when I went abroad."
Khor Kola, by grandma Sok loun —
Looking to find out more about his heritage and identity, San continued his research when he came home, but found that most formal records of the cuisine had been lost during the war and civil upheaval the experienced in the 1970s and 80s.
BroHouk Ling, by Mr Tuk Pov —
San realized the only people who had any knowledge of the traditional cuisine were older Cambodians. "There are insufficient documents to do the research. I only learn from old folks who have been through many generations," he says.
Grilled Frog, by Mrr Tuk Pov —
Deciding to start his own records, San embarked upon a six-year journey, interviewing and cooking with older Cambodians across the country to learn Khmer cooking techniques and ingredients.
Grandma Sok Loun, Siem Reap —
"I go to meet them, I go to their house and cook food with them. They teach me," San says of the people he learned from, such as Grandma Sok Loun.
Grandma Sok Thiklom (R) and grandma Sok Sychan (L) —
San has met with 26 people over the past six years and carefully documented the recipes they teach him.
Tuk Pov, from Phnom Penh —
I take a lot of pictures, and find out how to test the food; spicy, or salty, things like that," San says. "I discover some foods that I never knew about or had tasted."
Khmer traditional stuffed duck, by grandma Sok Sychan —
San says Khmer food relies heavily on galangal, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric and also uses local ingredients, such as leaves from the native nhor tree.
Na Tang by grandma Sok Loun —
Khmer food has three categories: royal, elite and peasant. Richer and more complicated, royal food -- such as this dish -- was traditionally served to the royal family and their courtiers in the palace.
New Fish Amok, by Mr Tuk Pov —
Elite food was less complicated and used lower quality meats and vegetables. Peasant or everyday food, like Cambodia's fish amok -- a popular soup make with coconut milk -- uses cheaper and ingredients.
Kraya Angkor kitchen —
San has opened a restaurant, Kraya Angkor, in the Cambodian capitol of Phomh Penh, and is working on a cookbook which he hopes will teach more locals -- and people overseas -- about Cambodia's rich food heritage.