The phrase “funky” often arrives up when you converse about Cambodian foods.
It is generally traced to prahok, fermented fish paste, an ingredient so widely applied that there’s a Cambodian phrase, ‘No prahok, no salt!” It is integrated in soups, these kinds of as samlor korko, a rustic vegetable and environmentally friendly fruit stew, as well as dips, like teuk kreung, a fish-dependent sauce served with uncooked veggies. Its style is considered an acquired a single for those new to the cuisine.
But 1st technology Cambodian American chefs are not fearful to use it. In a new crop of eateries, they are embracing the full breadth of Cambodian flavors, while integrating their American upbringings.
“Cambodian foodstuff is a stability of salt, sugar, and acid,” states Ethan Lim, Cambodian American founder and chef at Hermosa in Chicago, a sandwich shop-cum-Cambodian dinner collection. He adds that it is this stability that would make the delicacies distinctive from Thai food, for instance, which has a higher peak in acidity and heat.
Nonetheless when Cambodian delicacies may possibly be quieter, that subtlety should really not be puzzled for deficiency of taste. The country’s rich heritage (which ties it to China, France, India, Thailand, and Vietnam) and an inextricable connection with fish infuse the foodstuff with a deep, elaborate flavor. It draws brightness from the generous use of aromatics and herbs, with an umami depth from fermented components like prahok.
The nuances of the cuisine, alongside the exclusive Cambodian American knowledge, can partly enable reveal why Cambodian delicacies has lacked visibility in the States.
The Cambodian American diaspora commenced having form in 1975, when the initially wave of Cambodian refugees came to the States to escape the brutal Khmer Rouge routine that remaining two million lifeless. At that time, lots of had been not wondering of how to integrate Cambodian food items into the American mainstream. It was basically intended to be liked in the sanctity of their very own residences.
“I assume revisiting the cuisine calls for revisiting specified traumas, and I do not assume a lot of people today were completely ready for that yet,” states Lim.
A technology taken out, Lim feels he and his friends are now prepared to share the cuisine with the relaxation of the place. Some have begun with typical American mediums, these types of as the sandwich, to introduce Cambodian flavors to their clientele. Hermosa’s best-promoting item is their fried rooster model, impressed by flavors Lim grew up ingesting, with tangy papaya salad tucked into a brioche bun. He marinates the chicken in kroeung, Cambodia’s foundational lemongrass paste, and utilizes an abundance of new herbs, such as Thai basil, cilantro, cilantro, and mint, to make sure that it’s a legitimate illustration of a Cambodian cultural dish—in sandwich sort.
In Los Angeles, at cafe and deli, Gamboge, founder and chef Hak Lonh also began with baguette sandwiches—the Cambodian num pang. Lonh makes use of kroeung as a foundational marinade, having it in a variety of instructions —sweet, sour, spicy—throughout his menu. The cafe has a playful wine selection that highlights the pure “funkiness” of the foodstuff, as Lonh places it as properly as fusion dishes, these kinds of as the small rib bowl with Korean quick ribs marinated in kroeung. Lonh began Gamboge as an homage to his mothers and fathers, but he also desires it to signify what Cambodian foods in Los Angeles in 2021 can glance like.