Food in Khmer Culture

Opening reception, April 9, 2009



From 2001 to 2007, Reyum Institute’s research team has conducted interviews of elderly people (between 50 and 70 years old) as part of our oral history project called a "Cambodian Memory Bank". Using the information from this memory bank, we published a book and curated an exhibition in 2003 called "Seams of Change: Clothing and the care of the self in late 19th and 20th century Cambodia".

The exhibition and publication called "Food in Khmer Culture" we present here, is also based on sources provided by interviewees from the Cambodian Memory bank. The aim of this project is to look at the meaning of food in Khmer culture from its cultural and social point of view. It is not a cookbook, though we provide examples of ingredients and different types of dishes.

In Cambodian society, cooked rice or "Bay" in Khmer, is the central element in food culture. Bay is also referred to as "preah me" literally meaning, "mother god". The words for breakfast, lunch and dinner all start with Bay: "Bay Preak", "Bay tgay trang" and "Bay lgeach", respectively.

Therefore, food or "mhob" in Khmer can be understood as accompanying elements to the cooked rice. In our research we documented a variety of food as well as different ways of preparing food depending on the context (at home, in public spaces, or in ceremonies) and in specific regions of Cambodia. It is not possible, and this is not our intention, to present an exhaustive survey of "food practice" in Cambodia. In this exhibition we only wish to present a few examples of ingredients as well as types of food through a photographic display. Further details are available in the publication.

We would like to thank all the elderly people who have shared their memories
and participated in this project.

With the support of:
The Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation – The Rockefeller Foundation -
The Prince Claus Fund