Food: the universal language

Delicious home-cooked lunch

I was fortunate share a home-cooked Cambodian meal with friends this past weekend, probably the most memorable meal I’ve had so far. One of our friends invited us for lunch in the morning and of course we all wanted to bring something, but the couple kept insisting that we don’t bring anything.

This is my first time being at a Cambodian person’s house so it was a great experience. They offered us a drink as soon as we arrived in the scorching hot weather and they provided us with more than enough food for lunch as well as a Cambodian dessert, which looked like green noodles (see pic below).

What also makes this experience so memorable is that we can’t communicate in depth in English or Khmer (Cambodian language), but just spending time with people over food is something that overcomes all language barriers. We can still joke and laugh together.

Even though all of the food and drinks were out on the table, we all waited until everyone was sitting at the table before we ate. I will make sure to do this more often when I get back to Vancouver.
While I am a pescotarian (eat fish, but no beef or chicken) 95% of the time, I did eat meat for this meal so I wouldn’t be rude since they were in all of the dishes. It was delicious and my tummy hasn’t been angry at some of the meat I’ve had so far.

One of the guests was telling me that he is studying information technology but the education quality in Cambodia is not good. He looked frustrated. He said, “In Phnom Penh, there are many more choices, but not in Siem Reap.” As I meet more people, I’m hearing more and more stories like this. I have read several statistics about the poor quality of education in Cambodia. You feel a whole other level of frustration when you hear the impacts directly from Cambodians of all ages.

I did want to try the meat since I am traveling just to at least taste it and I think the meat is likely fresher than the factory farmed meat in Canada, which is a big reason why I usually don’t eat meat. I’m more likely to try locally raised meat and I have in Vancouver.

Generous food customs

Generously hosted by our friend as his house

I’ve noticed the following food customs both from Cambodian people and people who come from other countries around the world since I’ve been here that I really appreciate:

  • Everyone waits until all the food is cooked before eating a meal. One time, one of my friends was really hungry and the food was still an hour away from being ready. I told her she could eat one of the dishes as an appetizer because for most of us, if we’re hungry, we’ll eat something small. But she said, “No it’s ok, I will wait.”
  • If someone didn’t cook, they will take it upon themselves to clean everyone’s dishes. While I find many people in North American often have to be asked or “trained”, the people I live and dine with do this automatically.
  • If people are in the same room, rarely do they make something just for themselves. Most of the time they don’t ask and make either a dish or drink for everyone. If someone is making a fruit shake, they will count the number of people in a room and make it for everyone. My first week here, I bought ingredients for myself but quickly found myself using them to contribute a dish since we were eating and cooking together most of the time. Every day is a foodie day!

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