Tag: Food

Khmer Cuisine Part 1: An Introduction

 

Khmer cuisine refers to the cuisine of Cambodia. It’s not to be confused with Cambodian cuisine. The first is considered to be almost uniquely Khmer, the bits of influences it experienced came from India and Java. Whereas Cambodian cuisine is referred to what emerged after the 1700s, and is influenced by the cuisines of Portugal, China, Malaysia, France, Vietnam, and Thailand. The last two are two-way influences as Thai and Southern Vietnamese cuisines are heavily influenced by Khmer cuisine. 

Khmer cuisine is categorized by dishes as well as by tastes: sour, salty, bitter, and pungent (if pungent could be considered a taste). These four tastes are also applied to Cambodian cuisine as well. Although, a worrying trend toward sweeter taste has emerged recently among the younger generation. Our food is well balanced between those four tastes, and by that, I don’t mean balanced in a dish, but that there would be a dish of each taste at the dining table at mealtime. 

Nom Kom: A Simple Cake

 

Nom Kom is a very old, very traditional Khmer cake wrapped in banana leaves in a pyramid shape. It is a simple cake, made with glutinous rice flour and has coconut, palm sugar, and black sesame seed filling. All the ingredients you can easily find in your local supermarket. While banana leaves are available at the frozen aisle of Asian markets, fresh leaves can sometimes be found at Latin markets as well. Nom Kom is one of several traditional cakes my grandmother likes to serve at our family’s various religious ceremonies throughout the years.

It is a simple cake, as stated above, but nom kom also bears a religious connotation as well. It represents the yoni (vulva, womb), a personification of the divine feminine creative power, the mark of Mother Shakti. In Hinduism, the yoni is the counterpart to the linga, the symbol of Lord Shiva. So of course, num kom has its counterpart, num ansom. At engagement and wedding ceremonies, num kom and num ansom are always presented together to symbolize the union of the linga and the yoni, the representation of the eternal process of creation and regeneration, the union of male and female principles. In Khmer, that union is called mea ba (mother, father).

Chef’s Surprise: Food on the Go

 

The janitor for my VFW post hustled to finish the morning cleaning before dashing off to his second gig, a pizza and wings shop. He proudly announced that a local network affiliate had featured his pizza joint as a “hidden gem” among restaurants located inside gas stations. This prompted memories of food along the road map of memory. I remember hot dogs at Howard Johnson, fresh crusty rolls with cheese and meat in small Bavarian towns, and the Triple T truck stop restaurant in Tucson, Arizona.

Early in life, when my parents took me and then my first sister, on the road, Howard Johnson was known as a safe stop with clean restrooms. My memory is of a special toasted hot dog bun holding a thin hot dog in a paper tray. A quick search online confirms that HoJo had its own bun design, almost like a slice of bread formed into right angles.

Culinary Love Language: Homesickness and Pineapple Cakes

 

When leaves have started to litter the ground, days are growing ever shorter, and sweaters become inevitable, I begin to want pecans rolls from the Old Mill. They’re a Thanksgiving tradition in my family, and there’s nothing else I’ve found quite like them in the world. I won’t eat more than one or two over the course of the holiday (I can only handle so much in terms of sweets), but they taste like making up little turkey dinners for the cats, listening to the high school football game on the radio, and the beginning of real snow. Like home. Living so far from where I’m from, and having in general such a tenuous connection to ‘normal’ American food, little things like that are especially important to me. 

Thanksgiving this year put me in mind of this more than it usually would. Normally, my Taiwanese friend, A, and I would buy a turkey, order all of the fixings ahead of time from Whole Foods (they’re a blessing for Americans ex-pats at the holidays), make Korean food while we waited, and then eat our meal with sparkling apple cider and Clint Eastwood movies. This year, I went to Russian, and then home. Lockdown meant that we weren’t allowed to have anyone not in our bubble around, and having no one to celebrate with, I couldn’t manage much spirit for the holiday. My celebrations amounted to buying a baby mincemeat pie from Waitrose, and being forced to discuss the meaning of Thanksgiving in Russian with Natasha. 

New Foods… Chef’s Surprise

 

When I was in my late teens, I found an old purse that had belonged to my grandmother and in it was a shopping list. Among other items, she had written “spigety” and I showed it to my mother and had a little chuckle over how it was spelled. My mom was also amused, but then she smiled at me and said, “And you know–she did not mean “spaghetti”–she would have been buying macaroni noodles for mac and cheese. My mom would have never made spaghetti.”

Well, that was a surprise to me, because we had Italian spaghetti at our dinner table regularly. But, when my mother was a child, she grew up in a home where her parents were first-generation Americans. Her father’s parents had emigrated from Switzerland, and her mother’s dad was Swedish and the mom was born and raised in Scotland. There was no spaghetti served in those homes. Both families were dairy farmers, so cheese was a major food group.

If You Can Stand the Heat, Get in the Kitchen: Theory and Practice of Szechuan Cuisine

 

Generally, I only inflict my culinary exploits on the PiT. (Before you start to feel too bad for them, you can rest assured that they are not passive victims in this endeavour). As with so much else in my life, my gastronomic tastes tend to veer a little bit outside of the mainstream, especially for a college student that lives alone. Mostly traditional Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese food, as well as some Middle Eastern, and not quite any burgers, spaghetti, and donuts. My parents don’t exactly love it when I come home, and the next day they have a fridge fully stocked with tofu, preserved bamboo shoots, century eggs, kimchi, and the like. (Mom draws the line at congealed blood and chicken feet). With England in lockdown yet again, I’ve had more time than normal to cook for myself, and, like an old and familiar friend, I often gravitate towards Szechuanese and Xi’an food. 

Chinese food encompasses a vast array of regional dishes, ingredients, and methods, but there are, in modern times, the 八大菜系: Eight Great Cuisines of China. Szechuan cuisine is one and is renowned in the country and around the world for its characteristic pungency and spiciness. Commonly available ingredients, like garlic, ginger, sesame paste, and green onion, play a role in this, but so do two ingredients grown almost exclusively in the region. The Szechuan peppercorn, which creates a unique kind of numbing and tongue-tingling spice when consumed, and the heaven facing pepper, oftentimes too hot to be consumed raw but a staple in dried and cooked form. If you’ve ever had Szechuan food, you’ll be familiar with that pepper, and also with the chili oil that is almost ubiquitous in it. 

Group Writing: Fish’s the Season

 

To outsiders, Cambodia has two distinct seasons: the wet season and the dry season. But to the Khmer people, there is a third one, rdauv prohok, a prohok season. Prohok is a fermented fish paste. It is the heart and soul of Khmer and Cambodian cuisines, and yes there is a difference between the two cuisines, but that is a topic for another day. Prohok season generally starts in December and ends in February, coinciding with the fishing season (November to March). This year, the first phase of the season began on December 20 and ended on the 29th.

To understand why a fermented fish paste is so important to our food culture, one has to understand Cambodia’s geography and its dependency on fish. I mentioned Boeung Tonlé Sap, also known as the Great Lake, before in one of my posts here. As the largest inland fishery in the world, the lake has been sustaining the Khmer people since the beginning. It is integral to Khmer food culture (we eat 140 pounds of fish per capita annually, compared to the global rate of 64 pounds). Lives in Cambodia essentially revolve around this abundance of fish, with 45% of the population working in fish related employment during this short peak fishing season. People from all over the country travel to the Great Lake, the Mekong, and every waterway to buy or trade rice for fish to make pha’ak (fish fermented with sweet fermented alcoholic black rice), sun-dried salted fish, smoked fish, and of course to make prohok, to ensure that fish products are available throughout the year.

Member Post

 

Is this to be the last true Labor Day? This year’s elections, formally ending on November 3, will answer the question. The United States is a nation with a deep, rich tradition of honoring honest labor and of workers and workers organizations standing up for their interests and their human dignity. It is not true […]

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Member Post

 

Farm subsidies are perhaps the ultimate, but secret, third rail of American politics. While entitlements are discussed out in the open, farm subsidies are rarely talked about – even though they are the most expensive subsidy Washington doles out. All told, the U.S. government spends $20 billion annually on farm subsidies, with approximately 39 percent […]

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“Trump Speed” Week in Review

 

American voters face a choice, not an echo, and need to act accordingly in this election season. As the Democratic National Convention rolls out in some form this week, measure Democrat supporters’ claims against President Trump’s accomplishments. Start with just last week. The Trump administration moved with purpose all week, taking both domestic and international actions that matter. Consider this daily summary of the past week’s events [emphasis, bracketed comments, and links added]. Bear in mind, President Trump had his brother Robert on his heart all week, as Robert was in hospital “having a tough time.” Sadly, the week ended with President Trump saying farewell in person to his beloved younger brother, but that did not stop the president announcing a defense agreement with Poland, to the consternation of Russia and their Democrat true friends. Robert Trump died on August 15, 2020:

It is with heavy heart I share that my wonderful brother, Robert, peacefully passed away tonight. He was not just my brother, he was my best friend. He will be greatly missed, but we will meet again. His memory will live on in my heart forever. Robert, I love you. Rest in peace.

Home Cooking and Concert, 1st Week of July

 

As America heads into a long holiday weekend, however distorted by the great political fight for permanent tyranny or another season of liberty, it is fitting and proper that we should again reflect on our many blessings, including our national heritage. Our basic governing document has only been truly changed, legitimately amended, 27 times in 233 years, with 10 all at once at the very beginning, part of the agreement under which the base document of the Constitution was ratified.

We all profit by Saint Paul’s admonition to the early church at Philippi:

Member Post

 

“What am I, chopped liver?” is an expression of uncertain origin. It seems to arise from a traditional European Jewish side dish. That suggests discounting or overlooking someone, as one might overlook or reach last for a side dish, after the entree. Chopped liver is certainly less prestigious than goose liver foie gras, although likely […]

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Reuben Bratwurst (or Why my Mouf is ’Appy)

 

A few years back, a little fast food place opened here north of Detroit, Michigan. It was called Loaded Links. Basically, it was a high-end hot-dog and circus food place. They had all sorts of options on the menu. For instance, there was the Millionaire’s Dog, which had a Wagyu steak dog with fois gras and truffle sauce. They also had menu items with names like Windy City Dog or New York-Style, etc. I went through trying all of the variations. My wife had been getting the Reuben Dog with a few small alterations. I believe it normally came with an all-beef hot dog, and she would substitute a Polish sausage, instead. She would also get it without pastrami. Now, I thought pastrami was kind of an odd innovation. Corned beef, yes. Pastrami? Eh. So, I didn’t try the Reuben Dog until we had been there at least ten times. And I was very pleasantly surprised. It was without a doubt the best thing on their menu. A week later, I was jonesing for that Reuben Dog. We headed over there, and…they were closed. They had a note saying that they were moving and would be at a new location in the spring. And then CoViD-19 appeared. Loaded Links has not yet reappeared if it will. And I’ve been jonesing for another Reuben Dog.

Oh, I have had Reubens since then. Given my conditions, they have to be naked, no bread. Likewise, Loaded Links had an option to serve the hot dogs in a gluten-free corn tortilla, which is how I had been eating them there. But those naked Reubens weren’t quite the same.

Member Post

 

In the midst of strife and negativity, it is important to seek out beauty and praiseworthy things. I look forward every week now to what Xuefei Yang and Mae Mae will offer up to the world. This week does not disappoint. Xuefei Yang plays a tradition Chinese piece, the Lantern Song. Preview Open

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@markcamp‘s excellent post on accidental recipes last week got me thinking about the best unexpected food combinations. I’m sure quarantine, and limited access to grocery stores and food items has made us all a little more creative in our pairings. Certainly, because I cook mostly East Asian and Middle Eastern food at home and at […]

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La Dolce Vita: A December Sojourn in Rome

 

I promised a little while ago that I would be writing about my recent travels, and since I’ve already done a piece on London and Paris last summer, I thought some readers might like a Saturday night sojourn to Rome. 

This trip did not begin in the most auspicious of ways. While it was a 6 am flight out of Gatwick, I needed to board a train there from my university city by 1 am in order to leave my luggage in storage, collect my boarding pass, and get through security. And if 1 am train rides, when I hadn’t actually slept, weren’t enough fun, I also got to contend with an incoherent, screaming vagrant boarding at one of the stops jumping straight into my empty carriage. Living in a city for two years teaches you to not blink an eye at things that would shock you in a small town. Screaming Scottish man with a beer belly in a fishnet dress and pumps, carrying a Stella Artois; well, it is Friday. 

May Merriment: Three Slices of Happiness

 

On the way to more serious content, I ran across three very different but equally, quietly, joyful YouTube videos. Enjoy three great slices of Americana:

  •  A woman making cheeseburger pie, with camera work by her husband of many years.
  • A woman and her heavy Chevy.
  • The ice cream man and the truly diverse community he serves.

The cooking video is one of a series, shot in a couple’s kitchen. To be completely accurate, it is clearly the woman’s kitchen, and her husband is there in support and in appreciation of her cooking. How could you not like Mae Mae’s Happy Table? You will surely gain five pounds just watching, but the video is worth the weight.

The Food Supply Chain is NOT “Breaking”

 

It was disappointing to read the ad in The New York Times & Washington Post today from Tyson Food’s CEO that “the food supply chain is breaking.” The media of course ran with that (and not much else), consistent with its own obvious strategy to spread fear. Tyson and a few other companies have had serious issues with Wuhan Virus victims, and some plants – some 30 in total, if what I read is correct, have had to close temporarily. Other plants have had partial shutdowns. But as a food industry veteran of 23 years, let me assure you – our food supply chain, while stressed, is NOT breaking.

Oh, sure, some are more stressed than others, some pretty severely, especially if ingredients or products from China are in your supply chain. If you are part of the “foodservice” supply chain, you’re really stressed.