How Can I Put This?
There's an article in Salon today asking whether Cambodian food will ever catch on in America. Having recently spent 10 days there, I think I can safely say not anytime soon.
It's not that the food was really bad, but that it just wasn't particularly distinctive. Befitting its location, it was sort of mix between Thai and Vietnamese food. We ate a lot of fried noodles and other kinds of stir fries. The only two meals that stand out were (1) something that our guide was eating on Chinese new year in Anlong Veng that involved dipping cooked beef and raw vegetables into a fermented fish paste that tasted sort of like blue cheese, and (2) something called lok lak (basically stir fried beef with tomatoes in a lemon grass flavored sauce) in a cafe in Phnom Penh. Another meal that stood out: the dish of stir fried chicken necks that I was served for lunch one day. I would tell you how it tasted, but I couldn't really figure out how to eat it. (Holt was with me, so maybe she'll correct me if I'm forgetting something.)
Probably, this was largely our fault. Our guide book made a point of saying that Cambodians will eat anything, and I suspect that most restaurants have figured out that a lot of things won't appeal to Western palates. See fermented fish paste and chicken necks; we also saw a street vendor selling roasted crickets. But I don't think that would be any different here in the U.S. than it was in Cambodia. That being said, maybe I'll try the recipe in the article.
This stands in stark contrast to Vietnam, where the food was spectacularly good, and a real highlight of the trip.
I note that Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide, the bible for ethnic restaurants in the DC area, does not even list Cambodian food as a category. Of course, this could just reflect the relative lack of Cambodian immigrants in this area.