A Taste of Asia: Kampot pepper rules in Cambodian cuisine renaissance
Updated 17:01, 13-May-2019
Having tried Sichuan's chili pepper, now let's head to Cambodia to check out another sort of pepper, Kampot. It is not only a unique ingredient in Cambodian cuisine, but also says a lot about the country's history and its culinary revolution. CGTN's Miro Lu has more from Siem Reap.
"We are trying to show the world the quality of Cambodian products, the fishes the vegetables all the wild things that you can still find in this country and I think it is extremely interesting it is extremely unique."
"In Cambodia, we have different kinds of herbs and spices that other countries don't have, so we want to present them."
"We want to show our food, Khmer cuisine, to the world."
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what Khmer cuisine is, as it shares many of the same characteristics as neighbouring countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam. But one ingredient that is unique to Cambodia and says a lot about the country's culinary evolution is Kampot pepper.
KIMSAN POL, EXECUTIVE CHEF EMBASSY RESTAURANT, SIEM REAP "This one we call green Kampot pepper this one is fresh we can cook with any kind of food like seafood."
The peppercorns, which come in white, red and black, are described by gourmet chefs as having a complex flavour with floral overtones.
Regarded as the "king of spice", Kampot pepper was famous among chefs in Paris back in the early 1900s. But production came to a halt in the 1970s during the Khmer Rouge era. Following years of subsequent civil war, Kampot pepper and much of the country's rich food culture was lost.
Nowadays, Kampot pepper is reclaiming its global pre-eminence. And so is Cambodian food.
KIMSAN POL & KIMSAN SOK EXECUTIVE CHEFS, EMBASSY RESTAURANT SIEM REAP "We would like to continue our business and to promote our Cambodian food to the world. I want to study more about the technique of the cooking, the modern cooking, but to use our ingredients."
MIRO LU SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA "One chef helping to put Cambodian cuisine on the map is Khmer-speaking French chef, Joannès Rivière. In 2015, his restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak, became the first Cambodian restaurant to find its place on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list. Using fresh local produce and French savoir faire, chef Joannès is able to use his restaurant to showcase Khmer cuisine to a wider international audience."
Despite efforts by both local and international chefs, Cambodian cuisine does not have the same representation around the world as Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese food.
JOANNES RIVIERE, CHEF & CO-OWNER CUISINE WAT DAMNAK, SIEM REAP "First of all, there is obviously the war, that has put the country 30 years back behind let's say Thailand. There is also the fact that even nowadays there is not a proper Cambodian food curriculum within the country of Cambodia, so there is no, at the end, maybe a proper identity to Cambodian cuisine. I was first asked when I came as a cooking teacher for an NGO to write a Cambodian cookbook. It was the first Cambodian cookbook written in French and it was the third Cambodian cookbook written in English in 2005, so there was nothing written about Cambodian food."
Cuisine Wat Damnak is popular among visitors and locals. Chef Joannès says the biggest compliment he gets from local customers is that his food looks Western but tastes Cambodian.
Chefs such as the two Kimsans and Joannès have started the important work of defining and promoting Cambodian food, but it will take a generation of young, passionate Cambodian chefs and foodies to spread their food culture around the world.
Miro Lu, CGTN, Siem Reap, Cambodia.