Sunday, August 27, 2017

Morning Glory/Water Spinach, Vietnamese Persimmons/Golden Apple and Guava: New-to-us Khmer Food

I've learned several new fruits and vegetables lately. I thought I'd share them with you.
Below you see the water lily stems that take special talent to harvest. When you pinch off the stem, if you are not careful, mud will be drawn up the stalk. The Khmer lady who sells these has four children depending on her at home and something happened to her husband. She walks around town with a big basket of these carried on her head calling out the name of them in Khmer. Our neighbor said she uses these to make a salad with thin strips of the water lily stem, chicken, lime juice and herbs.

Water spinach, or morning glory, are the stems of the sweet potato plant. They are used in soup the same way you would use spinach and with a similar taste. Many times it is used in a soup with rice noodles.

I had no clue what these were when my friend gave them to us. My Vietnamese friend helped me out with the Latin name: Diospyros decandra, or a type of persimmon. One way the Khmer eat these is with the flesh mashed in a mixture of milk, sugar, and chia or basil seeds. The pulp is pretty astringent in the mouth, so all of that can be pretty necessary!

Here you see a guava. These were really popular in Mexico, but the ones I saw were smaller, many times made into preserves. Here guava is enjoyed dipped in salt, sometimes with garlic powder, chili or sugar.
The kids all tried a bite and thought it was good, but even better, the pasabulong from our Filipina friends who came home from holiday and were so kind to think of us:
The biscocho is from Iloilo and the piaya is from Negros Occidental.
Yep, it was yummy!
Elias had fun trying on his father's shirt... it'll be a few years before it fits.
The boys love to help cook! Here they were making cinnamon rolls:

One of them wants to be a fireman who owns a restaurant on the side when he grows up. The other one wants to build "helico'ters." I can't wait to see what they become!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Greening our Space in a Cambodian Concrete Jungle

If you had asked for my thoughts on Cambodia before moving here, I would have told you about the movie I saw in school The Girl Who Spelled Freedom, about the generation I have heard retell experiences from the neighboring Vietnam war. My perception would have included poverty, war and jungles. When I arrived in Cambodia, even from the air looking down over the giant, muddy river and then Phnom Penh, I could tell some of my perceptions were wrong. Instead of jungle, miles and miles of corrugated tin in varying degrees of disrepair or opulence met my view. A myriad of electrical wires snaked between them. Phnom Penh is a concrete jungle for most people. The lucky have a yard, but most yards have been concreted in so they don't turn into a muddy mess during rainy season.

When our neighbor went to visit his sister in France, he brought back a surprise gift for the neighborhood, tulip bulbs! All of us who received them have potted them and have (as you can see above) sprouted. Hopefully, they will be blooming soon! Ben's boss gave him many shoots of the plant you see below:


Our neighbor gave me dried pieces of coconut husk. It's spongy and helps hold water for these little hanging plants. I lined the bottom and sides with it, and it does seem to retain water better.

It's amazing how much of a difference tiny, green, growing things can make! Looking at the plants in the stark contrast of their concrete environment makes me happy. Our landlords have more growing on the balcony above, but we have added these plants in the main area where we see them the most.

Plant therapy! It's a real thing.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Things I Have Learned From My Neighbors; the Essential Khmer Words

I'm very thankful that a neighbor moved in that is bilingual. It has opened up a completely new world. In hindsight, it would have been better to take a few courses in Khmer, even if we are here for only two years, and life was so overwhelming, and we were trying to pay for the baby... so I'm not sure how well it would have gone. It's a proven fact that the brain does not retain knowledge like it should when you are in "survival" mode, and I was definitely in survival mode when we arrived. However, I would recommend taking language courses if you can! 

Our neighbor has taught me several things about Khmer culture lately. I thought I'd share a few with you.

-When a woman gives birth, they take the leaves from the turmeric plant and make something like a tea with it. Then, it is rubbed all over the woman's skin to restore health and vitality.

-Cradle cap in Khmer is translated "water buffalo poop." She laughingly explained it comes from the old times when people would jokingly say that the mom had left the baby unattended and a water buffalo had pooped on his head. She also said doctors don't recommend scrubbing cradle cap off of a baby's head because it is so delicate.

-Turmeric leaves are really big! The ones she showed me looked like the banana leaves you would use to wrap a Khmer version of a tamale. These leaves are chopped very fine and used to season... frog! This was the example she gave me, but I'm sure there are other dishes, too.


As Talia is homeschooling this year, she offered to teach her a simple Khmer lesson in the afternoons. Talia writes down the transliterated words next to the English and then comes home and teaches me. It's amazing how many words you can pick up from daily life but once you've gotten used to that and are in the frame of mind to learn, it is also amazing how helpful it is to learn more words to integrate with daily life from a bilingual person.

(The boys have started back to school too. Elias takes Khmer at school this year.)

Some must-know words in my opinion are these:

ah-nee-man: how much?
sadam: right (for giving directions in a tuk tuk)
schvey: left
soo-sah-day- good day

Then the numbers to 10 which you will notice are worded on a base 5 pattern:
muy- 1
pee- 2
buy- 3
buon- 4
pram- 5
pram muy- (5+1) 6
pram pee- (5+2) 7
pram buy-(5+3) 8
pram buon-(5+4) 9
dap-10

-One of the first things I like to know about someone is their name. The neighbor explained that here, it's different: people often call others as "mother of -----" using the child's name as an indicator. This reminds me of Abu Dhabi where Ben's students called him "Abu Ilyas" or "father of Elias." She said sometimes people don't learn the names of their neighbors until there's a big wedding and they go door to door finding out names for the invitations!

Who knows what we'll learn next!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Tom Yum Soup: Cambodian Recipe

When my friend told me she would teach me to make Tom Yum soup, I had this mental image of making a fabulous from-scratch dish... It started out OK: We chopped onions, tomatoes and got some of these small, white mushrooms.
Then came the disappointing part, ANYTHING CAN BE TOM YUM IF YOU ADD THE MAGIC CUBE!!!
...also known as an MSG-laden bouillon cube conveniently containing the flavors that I can't read in Khmer.
As I'm accustomed to making stock from vegetables or bone broth as the base of a soup, this was different. Still, I'm thankful she showed me how it's done. This part is easy enough to modify.

We added some bok choy and the coconut milk made a delicious broth. Next, I would love to learn the delicious noodle soup they served at Nature Lodge in Modulkiri and around the country, or at least I think I would...