For those who live just to eat :)
Bangkok Post, 13 October 2013
A camera crew follows Luu Meng around the kitchen of his Phnom Penh restaurant, zooming in as he tosses ingredients into a hot wok.
In an age of celebrity chefs, this man is Cambodia's answer to Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, though without Ramsay's foul-mouthed tirades or Oliver's laddish Essex ways.
In fact, Luu Meng cooked with Ramsay for an episode of Gordon's Great Escape that looked at a cuisine slowly emerging from the shadows of neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. Its rise is no surprise to the cognoscenti who treasure Phnom Penh as something of a foodie's paradise.
As he takes a break from filming to relax in the beautiful garden area of his Malis restaurant, the quietly spoken Luu Meng reflects on what sets Cambodian food apart from other Asian cuisines.
"Thai food is hot, spicy and sweet, while Vietnamese has more Chinese influences, but Khmer cuisine is all about fresh spices," says the 40-year-old chef, whose grandfather fled Mao Zedong's communist China and settled his family in the Cambodian capital.
"There are influences from India, but always with fresh ingredients, not powders. Our cuisine is not as spicy as Thai and we don't use as much fish sauce as Vietnam, although we do love prahok (Cambodian fermented fish paste).
"We use very fresh spices that leave the diner feeling very light and refreshed. Indian food is characterised by spice, but we use a fresher spice."
Rock salt, Kampot peppers, Sihanoukville scallops and rich palm sugars are distinctive Cambodian ingredients. As in Thailand, salads are often a treat, particularly sait ko plear (raw beef salad), which is prepared with grated lemongrass.
Fried tarantulas, anyone? That is a speciality of Romdeng, one of the featured restaurants in a book, Cambodia's Top Tables, in which Luu Meng collaborated with Phnom Penh food writer Clive Graham-Ranger last year. A recipe helpfully points out how to kill the spiders before frying them.
Graham-Ranger, a veteran British journalist who settled in Cambodia eight years ago, has seen Phnom Penh's culinary scene take off in recent years as more Western chefs have added their influences to a country where it has long been possible to enjoy excellent French food. "You could eat out every night for a year here and still never get bored," he says.
Our meal at Malis gives a snapshot of vibrant Cambodian cuisine.
I am particularly impressed by the subtle fish amok, melt-in-your-mouth braised beef with galangal and prahok ktis, a delightfully rich paste of fermented fish, minced pork and coconut milk that is perfect when served with simple uncooked vegetables.
Luu Meng, who has travelled widely and taken on many culinary influences, believes Cambodian food deserves to be taken as seriously as French, Italian and Chinese haute cuisine.
"For me, the most important thing about cooking is quality _ quality of the ingredients, quality of the kitchen, quality of the service," he says. "Cambodian food is my passion and my future."
Link to this story: http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/food-features/374410/culinary-cambodia