Cambodian food is not well known. There are few Cambodian restaurants in foreign countries, and until recently there were not that many restaurants in the country of Cambodia.
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But a Cambodian mother and daughter have put Cambodian cuisine on the map, winning in February a prestigious Gourmand Award, for 2009’s “Best Asian Cuisine Cookbook in the World.”
“Au Pays de la Pomme Cythere,” by Sorey Long and her daughter, Kanika Linden, is an authentic Cambodian cookbook, with recipes for fish in coconut milk, salads and lemongrass soup.
It also the reclamation of an identity, one Kanika said she might have lost.
“One day I invited my friends over, and I made amok, and they loved it,” she told VOA Khmer. “As I closed the door after the last friend left, I said to myself, ‘Why didn’t you do that before?’ Because I was ashamed.”
“You have to be proud of yourself,” she said. “You have to be proud to be Cambodian, to be Khmer.”
Kanika did not always know how to cook. She learned from her mother, who was born Sorey Pol and escaped the Khmer Rouge three days before the fall of Phnom Penh. She resettled briefly in America and then moved to France.
“My daughter didn’t know how to cook,” Sorey Long said. So she tried to teach her.
“War destroyed everything we loved dearly,” she said. “So what is left? If any of us survives, we still have some of our traditions and Khmer mores, which we can pass to the next generation.”
Kanika said she wanted to learn to cook when she was first pregnant, living in London with her husband. The book came from her mother’s efforts to teach her.
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“And it was not an easy cooperation, because there were a lot of tears, a lot of crying, because my mom is a professional,” Kanika said. “She knows about Cambodian food, even French food. She is an expert, and I am not. She knew that I wanted to have something in the simple ways.”
At first, her mother used terms that were too technical and confusing—something the two fixed when they made the book.
“She had to explain things to me in a very simple way,” Kanika said. “So the book is designed for someone like me, with a lot of pictures, a lot of step-by-step.”
The 218-page “Au Pays de la Pomme Cythere,” which translates as, “In the Country of the Cytheran Apple,” took them 10 years to finish. It took phone calls and face-to-face meetings of a mother and her daughter.
It beat 6,000 entrants.
At last, Kanika spent three months in Cambodia finishing the book. She lost 4.5 pounds doing it, because, she said, Cambodian food is healthy.