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How 84 Dishes Helped 14 Schools

Narin Jameson, author of "Cooking the Cambodian Way".
Narin Jameson, author of "Cooking the Cambodian Way".

“Cooking the Cambodian Way,” a project begun by the author nearly 20 years ago, debuted in Washington this month, offering 84 different national dishes to would-be chefs.

The author, Narin Jameson, told about 100 people at the Asia Society in Washington at the June 8 launch that sales from the book would go toward helping Cambodian students at 14 schools in Siem Reap province.

Cambodia food was good, she said, but sometimes its creators lack the business acumen to create restaurants. “It is because we Cambodians are not good business people,” she told the gathering, drawing a round of laughter.

“After war and the Khmer Rouge time, Cambodians cooked food just to survive and did not care much about the taste,” she said. “But now the taste of Cambodian food is back to its past.”

That good taste will go toward helping Caring for Cambodia, an NGO that helps more than 6,000 students. The group’s founder, Namie Amelio, said she and Jameson had been discussing joining their projects for some time, after they met in Siem Reap, where Jameson is from and where Amelio was visiting a school.

“We would use every dollar of her money to help the children in her country,” she said.

The launch was a success, with some people buying up to six copies for friends or family.

“I also wanted to help Cambodia, because the money from these books would be donated to the organization to build schools,” said Norin Reaksmey. “I would make mango salads, Cambodian mixed-herb sour soups and herb fries.”

Kem Sos, an adviser for Radio Free Asia, said that while restaurant-goers often opt for Vietnamese or Thai food, Cambodian food can be appealing to people who would stay home and eat healthily.

“We can see that Cambodian food has a lot of vegetables, which is good for our health,” he said.

The book was also popular with non-Cambodians.

Eleny Scheidt, a volunteer at Caring for Cambodia, said she bought one for her daughter and one for herself after they fell in love with Cambodian cooking while helping at schools in Siem Reap.

Matthew King, who works with the US Department of Homeland Security, said he tried to cook noodles as good as those he once sampled in Cambodia—to no avail.

“I made a mess out of it,” he said. “The children laughed at me. So I had to ask Narin to come over and teach me how.”