|In August 2005, celebrating a successful end to my first year at catering college, I spent a few weeks travelling across Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Like most Londoners, I already had a pretty good idea about Vietnamese and Thai cuisines - but I knew absolutely nothing about Cambodian cooking. What I discovered during my brief visit opened my eyes to a truly world-class culinary tradition. When I returned home, it was Khmer food that I was talking about with the greatest enthusiasm.|
|"Cambodian cuisine, arguably long underrated", says Wikipedia, "is finally beginning to win recognition from food lovers for its subtle flavour and its wide range of unique indigenous dishes." Whoever wrote that entry has some issues with spelling, but no problem with his or her palate. Khmer food is based around river fish as the main source of protein, rice as the source of carbohydrate, a wide variety of vegetables and fruits and a unique blend of "Indian" and "Chinese" spices - turmeric, tamarind, galangal, cardamom, star anise, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemongrass, garlic, coriander and kaffir lime leaves. And then there's the country's speciality prahok, or fermented fish paste, which gives so many dishes a unique flavour. And last but not least the legacy of a century of French colonialism - la baguette.|
Recently arrived in my TV goody bag was the latest food travelogue - Rick Stein's "Far Eastern Odyssey" - and episode 1 is set in Cambodia. I should warn you that Rick displays some of those colonial attitudes that typify his generation and sound quaintly racist to someone of my age. But his heart's in the right place, despite his insistence on referring to things as "oriental" and "exotic" and never having seen a dragon fruit before. He certainly doesn't shy away from discussing the nightmare years of The Killing Fields and discussing the cultural impact of Khmer Rouge rule on the country and its cuisine. In these edited clips, I've removed the political discussion - not because I don't think it important, but because I'm severely limited by restrictions on YouTube. I hope you enjoy this glimpse of Khmer cooking.