Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Cambodian Feast for a Baby

My friends Mony and Neang Lon who are Cambodian had a baby shower Sunday September 19, exactly one month after baby Giovanni was born. In Cambodia it is considered unlucky to throw a shower for an unborn baby because of  age old superstitions. Cambodian showers are just like any you might have been to with family, friends, colleages and neighbrs dropping by all day, some with gifts for the baby or the proud parents but the food is different. Mony and Neang run a restaurant in Miami Springs called Thai Rama (alas no Cambodian dishes) and they know how to enetertain. With Mony's mother cooking you know the food will be delicious. If you are not familiar with Cambodian food, I'll explain. Cambodia lies in the region of Southeast Asia known by the French as Indochine (Indochina) as it lies between the huge countries of India and China. The food has been influenced over the centuries by India (thats where complex spicy coconut curries originated) often served over rice noodles (from China) or sliced baguettes (the gift from the French who ruled Cambodia during the colonial days). Neighboring Vietnam, Laos and Thailand also contributed threads that weave together the tapestry of Cambodian food. It tends to be less spicy and more subtle. On a trip to Cambodia years ago I fell in love with the cuisine, eating roasted chicken that had been smeared in a black pepper, lemongrass, and lime juice paste mixed with salt that was crispy golden on the outside and meltingly juicy within that I tore apart with my fingers. I  also remember eating steamed freshwater fish with green mango salad from the great Tonle Sap Lake area near Angkor Wat (the largest religious structure in the world, now Buddhist but originally built to the Hindu god Vishnu). But back to the shower in Pembroke Pines. When I arrived I was escorted into a room to coo over baby Giovanni who had red strings tied around both wrists for good luck and then headed to the buffet in the backyard overlooking a manmade lake. Canopies shaded tables and guests helped themselves. There were spring rolls with tuk trey (sweet and sour dip made from sugar, vinegar and fish sauce), a huge pan of roasted pork chopped into hunks, ground pork stir-fried with glass noodles, grilled satay sticks of spice-marinated chicken, barbecue chicken smeared in hotly red spices, and a red coconut curry called nom banchock namya served over a skein of soft rice noodles to be mixed with with slivers raw cabbage, bean sprouts and sliced banana blossom. It brought back my trip to Cambodia with its complex spicing and richness, cut with lime juice. Then I was served light spongy slices of cake cemented together with thick layers of whipped cream and bits of candied fruit and sprinkles from an Asian bakery. My friend Perun who is also Cambodian was there and brought boxes of longan from her farm in the Redland. They are a bit like lychees but the size of large marbles, smooth and dark golden with sweet honey-scented translucent flesh. In the center, reached by sliting the thin shell with a finger nail and popping it open is a small shiny black seed you have to nibble and in the end suck around, one reason they are also called dragon eye fruit. I'm sure Giovanni will grow up a happy and well fed little dragon with a good eye as his dad is a graphic designer.

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