Bok l’hong (a photo recipe)

Khmer spicy green papaya salad. I miss so many things from Southeast Asia, and this is one of them. In Khmer it's pronounced ɓok lhoŋ: បុកល្ហុង. You can order sôm tām, or ส้มตำ, in a Thai restaurant. In Laos it is tam maak hoong, or ຕໍາ ຫມາກ ຫຸ່ງ. And I didn't realize they also have it in Vietnam, gỏi đu đủ (pronounced guy dodo). The premise is the same but each has its own distinct flavor. Thankfully the ingredients are locally available. Here we visit a Khmer friend who just whips everything out of her pantry like it's the simplest thing, and in 5 minutes she has some on a plate for me. Besides the ingredients we used, you can add others: yardlong beans (cut in small pieces), grated carrots, crab meat, finely chopped lemongrass, … [Read more...]

Reading: Beliefs about the Mrenh Gongveal: Chasing the Elves of the Khmer

I've just had a chance to flip through this book. It's a photo essay on the Khmer tradition of providing a home to beings (elves) believed to provide them protection, guidance and advice. Look around Phnom Penh and it is such a common sight on the streets outside of residences, that it barely registers in your peripheral vision. … [Read more...]

Khmer cuisine: Koh saek chrook k’nao (Pork stew with jackfruit)

Koh saek chrook is usually a plain beef stew (of garlic, onions, soy sauce, fish sauce and small amounts of tubers) when our nanny Sopheap makes it for us. This variation below is with jackfruit, which lends a sweetness so that there's no need to add sugar. (With growing affluence and its associated sweet tooth, sugar is increasingly added to Khmer dishes like this one.) Tender shreds of meat are what's left after the yellow fruit is taken out and the tougher rind and tendrils discarded. The seeds of jackfruit are edible when boiled. It has a hard shell that's easily cracked and removed. They can be tossed into the dish as well. Sopheap leaves this shell on, but if I were to cook it myself I'd take them off. First, garlic is … [Read more...]

Quick eats in Phnom Penh: Bánh hỏi for lunch

This shop on busy Sihanouk Blvd has been serving fantastic bánh hỏi for years! They serve a set menu that includes sandwiches and meat skewers. It's a picture menu, and easy to point to one of the two big platters of meats and vegetables. Before the food arrives, a small pan of water and slices of lemon is brought to the table for washing hands. Bánh hỏi refers to the rice vermicelli noodle woven into a fine mesh, which looks like gauze. It's paired with foods of different textures and richness - starchy green bananas, sweet pineapples, crunchy cucumbers, meats and fats - all to be wrapped into a fresh spring roll. These fillings are laid out on several platters. One of these platters contains skewered pork meat sliced very thin and … [Read more...]

Where apsaras dance .. updated

The origins and symbolism of Khmer weddings, according to the Khmer Institute: Khmer weddings enact Cambodia's greatest legend. The first Khmer prince, Preah Thong, fell in love with the Naga Princess, Neang Neak, while exiled from his homeland. As a marriage gift to the couple, the father of the Naga Princess swallowed part of the ocean, and out of this was formed the land of Cambodia. … [Read more...]

Khmer food: Svay bok Trai cha-aa

(Smashed grilled fish) I'm always discovering new Khmer dishes I haven't tried yet. My colleague brought some of this the other day for her lunch. The photo doesn't capture it well, but it's a very tasty dish (for those not turned off by pungency, that is)! It's made of fish (grilled river catfish was used here), smashed in a mortar and pestle with grated green mango and spices. I asked Sopheap to make it and watched. Into the mortar with the mango went chopped red and white onion, a little garlic, salt, peanuts, some fish sauce and herbs that they call chee (gee?), for which I don't know the English names. (I'll add to this post when I find out.) Similar to it is the more famous green papaya/mango salad. This salad has river crab, … [Read more...]

Santa Claus has come to the Penh

Our son's first word (apart from mama and papa) was elephant - every time we pointed to an elephant in one of his books he'd say "peh-pet". Last year he was still a bit young to appreciate the celebration of Christmas, and was afraid of Santa Claus, even when he arrived with his favorite creature, Sambo the elephant. This year we milked that naughty/nice list idea cuz it works like a charm - it'll be a treat to watch this little boy on Christmas morning now that he knows better. Sambo, happily, is no longer a regular on Phnom Penh's busy riverside. He retired this year to a zoo. … [Read more...]

Christmas cards with a Khmer twist

I bought these cards at a Women's International Group (WIG) Christmas Fair a few years ago. On the back of the cards is a copyright for Global Art and Anita Dean who, from a quick google search, is the founder of Global Art, Phnom Penh. I wish they printed the name of the artist too. Anyway, I hope I'm not breaking any copyright rules by scanning and posting these beautiful cards. If anyone knows who the artist is, please leave a comment!   … [Read more...]