Greetings from the Kingdom of Cambodia! We have been in country for 17 days, and we’re right in the midst of transition. On our 3rd day here we began language school. Although officially on our schedule the only task we have is learning the Khmer (pronounced k-my) language and the homework we receive each day, we have quickly come to realize how many other realms of life we need to relearn. We have decided to start a series of blog posts titled “Transition Time.” Each post will cover a different area of life. Today we’ll talk about food.
What is Khmer food? What food is grown locally and what is imported? Where should we buy food? Where should we eat out? How much does food cost?
For the first week of our arrival, we did not have the ability to cook for ourselves, so we were eating out for both lunch and dinner every day. The hard part about eating out is whether we can communicate Kathleen’s celiac needs to the staff, and whether they will actually understand and make the food without gluten. Without any language skills or resources when we first arrived, every meal became a huge risk to her health. We were able to get our language teacher on the first day of class to write out in Khmer, “I cannot eat soy sauce. I cannot eat wheat. Please make my dish without soy sauce or wheat.” Kathleen was then able to present the instructions to the server, who hopefully reported them to the cooks, who hopefully obeyed. Kathleen recently found some help from another expat who has been living in Cambodia for a couple of years who also has celiac. Kathleen and her sat down for an hour or so and she gave Kathleen all sorts of tips on what local dishes to avoid, where to eat out, and even some recipe ideas. Thank God for those willing to help out!
One of the ideas we had before arriving was to avoid eating meat, which could be riskier based on how it’s butchered, cleaned, and prepared. But we quickly found that almost all restaurants have meat in every dish, so that plan has been harder to follow through on when we eat out. We have yet to cook meat at home these past 10 days since having our own kitchen. It is definitely nice to be able to prepare and cook our own food. It gives us much more confidence that we can stay healthy for our language studies!
Learning our vegetable names in Khmer class
We were also really curious how much money food would cost. After about 2 weeks in, we are starting to learn the value of different products. Eating out, we’ve found most meals cost between 4 and 6 dollars. Some restaurants serve both Khmer and western food, but there isn’t a big price difference between the two options. An eating out experience we have yet to dabble in is eating street food. Colin bought a grilled corn on the cob for about 30 cents, which was a bit tough and not quite as sweet as what he is used to back in Canada. But other than that, we haven’t tried any street food. There is so much more to learn!
Colin checks out some cashews at the market
To buy food for home, there are 2 main options: stores and markets. Markets have the energy. There are the smells, the sights, the noises, the crowds, the haggling, the characters, the heat, and the language practice. At this point in our transition journey, we dabble only a little in the markets. So far we have only bought fruit, mostly because the fruit is usually on the outer edges, and it looks so good that we can’t resist. The mangoes, bananas, pineapples, and oranges we buy at the market taste great! As far as price, we still have no idea what the going rate is for most things. I usually try to bargain for a lower price, but they don’t budge. At this stage, I ask myself, “would I pay this price in Canada?” My mind churns for a second as I recall the price of pineapples back in Whitehorse, and then I say, “2 pineapples pre-cut for $1? I’ll take them!” This is where knowing what is local comes into play. You can buy apples here, but they don’t grow anywhere near Cambodia. The Chinese ones are the cheapest, but the price for apples from Canada, USA, or New Zealand is outrageous. We ask ourselves, why would we pay $4 for 2 apples when we can buy 3 mangoes for only $1? We have a feeling we won’t be eating apples for a few years…
These guys are about to go under the knife to become a tasty stir fry
Then there are the stores. If the markets have the energy, the stores have the comfort. They are air-conditioned, the prices are all marked (no haggling involved), and usually there are less crowds, depending on the time of day and how narrow the aisles are, of course. If markets win for freshness, stores win for selection. Some of the bigger stores have food from all over the world, even Doritos made in the USA, Dutch gouda, and Canadian maple syrup! We are still figuring out where to buy food and how much to pay, but we’re on our way.
This is all we can say about food for now. We know there is so much we don’t know, and it will be interesting to look back on this post months and years from now when eating here is second nature. For now, we remind ourselves to seek the most important food, God’s Word:
Deuteronomy 8:3: “so he made you go hungry. Then he gave you manna, a kind of food that you and your ancestors had never even heard about. The Lord was teaching you that people need more than food to live—they need every word that the Lord has spoken.” CEV
Our last seconds in the Canadian winter air
Traffic view from the seat of a tuktuk
Our Whitehorse memento
Khmer has 33 consonants and 58 vowels
At the entrance to our great school, Gateway to Khmer