Our Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history project needs your patronage in the good old-fashioned sense of the word – encouragement, assistance and support – and you can become a patron of our project on the Patreon website for as little as US$2 a month or the price of a cup of coffee.

Four days ago we launched a Patreon page to seek patrons for a project that Terence and I have been researching, writing and photographing on and off for six years, the first comprehensive Cambodia culinary history and Cambodian cookbook. We would love your support.

Our Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history will be the first comprehensive English-language resource to Cambodian cuisine and culinary culture, covering dishes from every Cambodian region, parts of neighbouring countries where there are Khmer communities, including Isaan in Thailand, Southern Laos and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, the Cambodian diasporas in the USA, Australia and Europe, as well as recipes of a new generation of creative young chefs cooking in Cambodia and abroad.

The book’s culinary history will reveal the long rich story of this wonderful cuisine – a cuisine that has influenced its neighbour’s cuisines as much as it has been influenced by them due to their shared histories – while the cookbook will document and help to preserve Cambodian and Khmer recipes, particularly those of the older generation that are at risk of being lost when that generation passes.

Unlike any other Cambodian cookbook it will identify the sources of each of the recipes and share the lives and stories of the Cambodian cooks behind the dishes, and the kitchens that they cook them in. It will be much more than a cookbook. It will be a document of a generation and their time and place in a country that is changing very rapidly.

Our Cambodian Cookbook and Cambodian Culinary History Project Needs Your Patronage

We fell in love with Cambodian food on our first trip to Cambodia in 2011 to work on a story on ‘Siem Reap Beyond the Temples’ for an Asian magazine. We’d been living in Bangkok and eating Thai food and other Asian cuisines since our early twenties in Australia. But until that Cambodia trip, we’d never tasted anything like Cambodian cuisine. It was a revelation.

We became smitten with Cambodian cuisine’s funky fermented-fish dips, sour vegetable soups, zingy citrusy salads, and smoky barbecue meats. But it was a couple of dishes that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go: nom banh chok, freshly-made fermented rice noodles doused in an herbaceous fish curry and garnished with aromatic herbs, foraged leaves and seasonal flowers, and saraman curry, a rich but gently spiced curry that had a depth and complexity that carried secrets I’m still discovering.

When we returned to Bangkok after that first Siem Reap trip, I started to research Cambodian food and its culinary history, but kept coming up with very little at all. I thumbed through Asian cuisine cookbooks, but they rarely contained Cambodian recipes. At bookshops I sought out Cambodian cookbooks, only to find generic coverage and little history.

Apart from a few books written by Khmer-American women, Cambodian cookbooks rarely told the stories of the cooks writing them, let alone revealed the origins of dishes and the journeys they had taken. The more I read about Cambodia’s history, the more I thought about the food and made connections between Cambodian dishes and those of its neighbours. I knew there must be countless stories to be uncovered.

Yet when I searched the contents pages and indexes of Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, and Burmese cookbooks, there were few if any mentions of Cambodian food. It was then, in 2011, that I began to consider the idea of producing a comprehensive Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history but it would be a couple of years before I contemplated it again.

It wasn’t until October 2013, after spending a month in Battambang working on a story for Australia’s Delicious magazine that I began to obsessively seriously research Cambodian cuisine and the culinary history of Cambodia. Following a wonderful home-cooked meal at the family home of four dear old ladies in Battambang, we decided to create a Cambodian cookbook unlike any other published before – a Cambodia culinary history of a similar depth and breadth to David Thompson’s introduction to the cuisine of Thailand in his tome Thai Food.

The more research I did, the more I dug up, and the more I realised how much Cambodian cuisine and its history had been overlooked by cookbook writers and culinary historians. It made me angry and it made me sad. This was a cuisine that deserved more recognition and attention, and its history was there, if you knew where to look. And I did.

Six years later, I am still unearthing so much about Cambodia’s culinary history every day and I’ve made it my mission to continue to do so until I’m done – which is why I’m inviting you to be a patron of our project.

The Journey of Our Cambodian Cookbook and Cambodian Culinary History

When we first started our Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history project, we’d planned to focus the cookbook on those four Battambang cooks with so many stories to tell, and the atmospheric traditional wooden house that was their home, and the dimly lit kitchen and open veranda where they and their nieces and neighbours painstakingly prepared what had been one of the most delicious Cambodian meals we’d ever had.

But after their circumstances changed and the elderly women were separated, their home transformed into a guesthouse and the kitchen a museum of sorts, so too did our Cambodian cookbook segue into a much larger compendium of recipes from all corners of Cambodia, the border regions of neighbouring countries that were once part of the Khmer Empire, and the Cambodian diaspora in Europe, the USA and Australia.

As a comprehensive Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history didn’t exist we decided to combine the two into one book with an introduction to the culinary history of Cambodia preceding the recipes in the way that Thompson had done with Thai Food.

To complete the book, we need to travel to photograph and interview more cooks and chefs and document their recipes: we need to travel more within Cambodia, and do trips to the Khmer Krom in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, to Khmer communities in Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region, and to Southern Laos.

We also need to travel to China, India, Sri Lanka, Java, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and to cities in the USA, Australia and France that are home to Cambodia’s diaspora. I also need to fund some archival research, translation, and to pay for translators on trips. When you join our Patreon page we’ll share more of our plans with you.

Become a Patron and Support Our Project On Patreon

So far we’ve self-financed our work, which has punctuated other projects over the last six years. Our dream is to work full time on the Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history and complete the book and publish it within a year so that we are sending signed books out to you in time for Christmas 2020. Patreon seemed to be our best bet for achieving those goals.

If you don’t know Patreon, it’s a kind of Kickstarter or Go Fund Me for creatives, started in 2013 by musician Jack Conte who had millions of fans on YouTube but only hundreds of dollars in his bank account. His idea was to launch a platform for creators to raise funds through a subscription payment model, where patrons could pay a monthly amount for private access, exclusive content, and an insider peek into the creative journey.

The Patreon concept is not so different to the arts patronage system that dates back to ancient times. It was generous patrons who supported the work of artists, writers, scholars, philosophers, and musicians, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to create their work.

Jack’s model was a win-win because creators could retain creative freedom while receiving an ongoing income for their work while their patrons could rest easy knowing that the money they contributed went directly to the creators. Six years later, Patreon has enabled over 100,000 creators to be supported by more than 3 million patrons, and by the end of 2019 they will have ensured creators were paid some $1 billion.

We would love you to join us on Patreon where we’ll share our research, stories and recipes, and we would welcome your thoughts and feedback, your ideas and advice, your stories and your memories, and, if you’re willing, your recipes and cooking secrets. Your contribution and support will be credited in the back of the published book and we’re offering extra perks and special gifts to thank you for your efforts throughout the year.

If you’d like to support our Cambodian cookbook and Cambodian culinary history project, please visit our Patreon page, peruse the pledge tiers and respective rewards in the right column, then click on the orange ‘Become a Patron’ button above the column.

You’ll then get access to the patron-only content that only our Patreon members get, regular posts on the progress of our project, and the chance to participate in its development and even test recipes if you’d like. And when you receive the signed copy of our published book next year, you’ll find your name inside.

Pictured above: a traditional Cambodian dish with a twist by chef Mork Mengly of Pou Restaurant, one of Siem Reap’s best Cambodian restaurants. Mengly is part of a movement of chefs experimenting with New Cambodian Cuisine.

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