Bread and other things in the Heart of Cambodia

No one who goes to Southeast Asia on a mission trip can avoid talking about the food; it was one of the top five things I was questioned

The food in Southeast Asia was fantastic. Rice was the staple — breakfast

The food in Southeast Asia was fantastic. Rice was the staple — breakfast

And the people who followed Him asked Him for a miraculous sign that they might believe, they said that even Moses had given their ancestors’ bread from heaven to eat and Jesus said “I assure you Moses didn’t give them bread from heaven. My Father did, and now He offers you the true bread from heaven; the One that comes from heaven to give Life to the world.” And the people asked for that bread and Jesus replied, “I am the Bread of Life. No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry again.” (John 6: 30- 35a)

Part 7 of a series

By Dianne Kushniryk

No one who goes to Southeast Asia on a mission trip can avoid talking about the food; it was one of the top five things I was questioned about. The food was fantastic. It didn’t matter if we sat down in the cafe/bar/karaoke lounge of our Phnom Penh hotel for france toast or france fries (full breakfast $5), if we overindulged at one of the popular buffet style eating places (all you can eat $11), dined a la carte at one of the restaurants run by a NGO (Non-Government Organization) to help young women rescued from the sex trade (full meal $8) or feasted alfresco inside the community compound where we stayed while working (included in trip), the food was impressive.

Rice, of course, was the staple — breakfast, lunch and dinner always came with a big bowl, steamed and sticky. Typically all our meals also included a soup/stew dish that was rich and satisfying. There was always at least one of three kinds of meat: beef, pork or chicken served either with fresh vegetables or in a delicious sauce often made with lemongrass. Some meals, especially breakfast, were served with a plate of deep fried duck eggs and occasionally fish. The vegetables were always fresh and included long beans, carrots, cabbage, morning glory and a type of potato. Condiments were served in small bowls on the side because so many of them were spicy (chiles, turmeric, curry and a fermented fish paste called prahok).

Bread was served only as a breakfast choice and was heavy and yellow, reminding me of the Easter bread my Ukrainian mother-in-law made. It was served with jam as a concession to our Canadian palates. One evening we even had French Fries called France Fries. Every meal was finished off with a platter of fresh fruit: watermelon, dragon fruit, apples, and a type of pear, papaya, mango, jackfruit, tangerines, durian and a 1/2 a dozen different kinds of bananas (none with Chiquita stickers on them). Sometimes the platters of fruit came with various Khmer cookies or pastry. Some of the more interesting foods we tried included a lettuce wrap; chicken, green tomatoes and cucumber wrapped in a lettuce leaf. A hot pot; where the broth and meat were simmered on a butane burner on the table and you added fresh vegetables from the bowls surrounding it. Fresh under-ripe (green) mango dipped in coarse salt mixed with fresh red chilli peppers.

About as exotic as I was willing to get was deep fried alligator served at one of the buffets but some male members of our team tried deep fried crickets and baby quail. Insects (beetles and tarantulas) fried in hot oil and spices are popular at roadside markets.

Although water was our primary and indispensable drink, fruit shakes, fruit sodas, and Cambodian pop were also available. Of course the most popular beverage in the morning was Vietnamese coffee: extra strong coffee served with sweetened, condensed milk and hot water in a standard glass tumbler.

Dianne Kushniryk is a Christian essayist who has been published in the Rimbey Review and the Red Deer Advocate. She now writes almost exclusively for her church Rimbey New Life Fellowship.