Samlor KAKO, A Khmer Cuisine
By: Moul Vongs ( Jul - Aug, 2001 Volume 1 No.3 )

To Khmers, food is the stuff of legends. But unless visitors to Cambodia stay with a Khmer family, they may never have the opportunity to taste real Khmer cuisine. Khmer families generally cook and eat at home and there are few restaurants offering classic Khmer dishes. Those that do often lack English menus or staff able to explain the complexities of dishes or offer suggestions. Cuisine as much as dance or music is considered integral to Khmer culture. Food in Cambodia brings families together, and the ability to cook classic dishes can add to a woman's appeal as a marriage partner. The dishes of Cambodia are unique. Mr. Dek Sarin, Director of the Culture Development Department under the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said his wish would be to see Khmer cuisine in as many restaurants in the country as possible. So concerned is the Ministry that it has taken steps to promote Khmer cooking to the people. Information about classic dishes can be obtained from the Ministry, as can Ministry- approved recipes. As an effort to spark new interest in Khmer food and encourage existing exponents of the craft, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts revived its National Food Contest in early April this year, previously held in 1993 and 96. Mr. Dek Sarin said people could consider food as the link between daily life and part of the national identity.
A fine example of this is the classic dish, Samlor Kako, a type of rich vegetable soup that has inspired Khmer poets and given rise to legends through the centuries. As such, the Ministry chose Samlor Kako as one of two dishes warranting special promotion in the community, along with the coconut milk based steamed dish, H'mok.

"When referring to the Khmer civilization, one cannot miss mentioning the arts of cooking, exemplified by dishes such as Samlor Kako soup or H'mok," Mr. Sarin said. H'mok is a specialized dish consisting most commonly of fish, but sometimes chopped meat, or chicken, mixed with spices and coconut milk, then placed in leaves and steamed. Cambodian culture began long before Angkor, Mr. Sarin said. Findings at many archeological sites have dated human habitation in Cambodia as far back as the Paleolithic period (circa two million years ago).

These ancient people lived in settled villages, cultivated grains, domesticated animals, developed pottery and weaving and evolved into the urban civilization of the Bronze Age. In Southeast Asia a distinct type of Neolithic culture cultivated rice before 2000 BC. As cultures developed, so did cuisines. "The Khmer, like other people around the world, first worked to obtain basic needs, including shelter, clothes and especially food," Mr. Sarin said.

"Because they realized that food generated physical forces to develop their nation, the ancient Khmer left many carvings in form of bas-relief or high-relief on the galleries of a number of Prasat (temples), especially that of the Bayon Temple built under the reign of King Jayavarman VII (1181-1218). It is there, visitors can read the experiences of their daily lives, including their arts of cooking," Mr Sarin said.