Khmer cuisine: authentic and diverse, simple and original
To discover the cooking of Cambodia is to take a step back in time, to the era of the kingdom of Angkor, the cradle of Khmer civilization. It was then that Cambodian cooking developed its identity and began to flourish. Rarely written down, the recipes were instead handed down from mother to daughter. From this ancient origin has come a traditional cuisine of unsuspected treasures: a unique blend of flavors and colors that enhance the natural ingredients.
Over the centuries, Khmer cooking has been enriched by its contact with various countries. China brought steam cooking, the use of soy sauce and noodles, India contributed curry. From these multiple influences, Khmer cuisine took on a unique diversity. Thus you will find a surprising and enchanting blend of flavors: sweet, salty, bitter and sour exist side by side in harmony, sometimes even within a single dish, to offer a most original melody.
A blend of flavors, a multitude of colors
You will also come to see the importance that Cambodian cooking places on color. Since we "eat first with our eyes," the ingredients that make up a dish are like a painter's palette. Gleaming red chilies, bright green limes, orangish shrimp on a white coconut background: while the painting is colorful and harmonious, the flavors are all the more subtle.
A few specialties
The most popular skewer or "kebab" is the "golden sapeck," small pieces of pork tenderloin interspersed with bits of bacon and slices of Chinese sausage that are grilled over hot coals.
During the meal, water or cold tea is drunk (the Chinese drink their tea hot). At the end of the meal, and outside of meals, Cambodians, particularly in rural areas, drink "choum," a rice liquor and a locally made cognac.
"Amok," braised pork with coconut milk and pineapple, or banana-sesame fritters... these are some of the recipes you'll discover by clicking on the icon above.
Coconut milk is an essential ingredient of Khmer cooking. The dark, fibrous coconut that we find in our markets is the kernel of a much larger fruit, which weighs several kilograms. The fruit can be eaten at various stages of ripeness. A young coconut produces tender milky flesh and abundant juice, which can be drunk with a straw. Coconut juice is particularly prized for its medicinal properties (it is reputed to reduce fever.) As it ripens, the flesh thickens and becomes harder. It is grated to provide coconut flour, then pressed to produce coconut milk, which is used in curries, soups and baking.
Coconut milk is readily found frozen or in cans. However, be sure it has not been artificially sweetened.
Photo : www.agirpourlecambodge.org. This organization created a hotel school in Cambodia and each year provides free training to 100 disadvantaged students. More Khmer recipes will be put on line soon thanks to their collaboration. Every Khmer recipe book produced by Editions Piquier (French title: La cuisine du Cambodge) with the interns of Sala Bai funds one month of training for a student. Ten books provide a year's education.
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