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On Eve of Water Festival, Wishes for Prosperity

Ambok is a popular food for Cambodians, puffed rice that is sought after during Phnom Penh's annual Water Festival.

On the eve of the festival, held to celebrate the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River, villagers prepared the ambok for sale in the capital.

"When putting fried paddy rice [into the mortar], Mao pounds lightly and shuffles or breaks it up a little bit, or they'll stick to each other," said Mao, a villager in Korng Pisey district, Kampong Speu province, who referred to herself in the third person.

Mao spoke as she prepared ambok for sale to a middleman, who would then transport it to Phnom Penh. The capital will see hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Cambodians during the Water Festival.

The streets will be jammed with people from the countryside, as boat races, galas and street vendors keep them entertained.

Many will be looking for ambok, a traditional favorite for the occasion.

The snack is an offering to the moon, which, combined with water, is seen as important in agricultural prosperity. The annual Water Festival is held during a time of the full moon, according to a lunar calendar.

"Once all the preparation is done, people start to light the candles when the moon is rising," explained Tes Pranann, a resident of Phnom Penh. "At midnight, they start eating ambok, banana, and coconut juice, while looking at the moon and making wishes for prosperity in every family."