The Cambodian New Year is a combination religious observance and festive celebration. In Cambodia, little altars pop up on street corners, offering fruit and flowers to ancestors. Pilgrimages are made to the Sleeping Bhudda, where riels and dollars are offered to the poor. Flower garlands adorn temples, giant shiny stars glitter in outdoor market stalls, and Phnom Penh’s city fountains provide a liquid light show. In the distance, fireworks thunder and parades carry the joy. Where we celebrate, the grill gets underway. Nonstop platters of delicious food arrive : prahouk, an anchovy and peanut dip, tiny spring rolls to wrap in lettuce leaves; beef marinated with lemongrass; soup studded with star anise, banana sesame fritters, watermelon with dried fish.
Cambodian-Americans, many of whom settled here during the atrocities of the 1970s, retain strong ties to the homeland and to each other. A rich cultural history has been revived by these immigrants and is seeping into mainstream America. The culture’s spellbinding court dancing, weaving and silk traditions, and musical and artistic works are shared in theatres, art galleries, and especially, restaurants.
Here in the States there are several large communities of Cambodians, such as Long Beach, CA, Lowell, MA, and Bronx and Brooklyn, NY. Bhuddist temples are alive and the center of vibrant cultural events. During the New Year, women in silk settle onto floor mats to follow the chants of monks who adhere to strong traditions. Children wiggle away and go outside to play bean bag games toss paint at each other. Small bowls of food offerings, all cooked by tireless Cambodian women, are set before the monks – and I mean at least 50 bowls. The monks must eat their one meal of the day by 1pm, which is when the crowds hit the buffet table. Crunchy cabbage and chicken salads, spicy beef skewers, and coconut -bathed fish sit among countless fish, meat, vegetable dishes deeply flavored with lemongrass, star anise, hot pepper, and coconut. There is enough jasmine rice to feed 200 people. Jasmine rice coconut soup and nam play ai, or sweet rice dumplings, are set alongside banana fritters.
Bhuddist temple observance and festivities in the NYC area.
If you attend temple services, remember to bring an offering of food to leave for the monks (non-perishables), remove your shoes, and follow the example of other participants.
List of celebrations around the country (click on Bristol CT link). If you are near Bristol CT, watch children dance the apsara, or traditional court dance, under the tutelage of former palace dancer and Cambodian-American Somaly Hay. , Sat. 4/16.
Friends Without A Border annual New Year Celebration is an extraordinary exciting evening to support the Angkor Hospital for Children. NYC
In the mood for some exotic, zesty, wholesome food? Flag down the Cambodian Cuisine food truck circulating in New York. Chef Jerry Ley has risen from misfortune to rolling restaurateur, once again leader of the pack.
An endearing new book which donates proceeds to directly to Cambodian children: My Love for Two Countries is a discussion between an immigrant mother and daughter about allegiance to a native country and an adopted country. Excellent for those of you who have adopted children from Cambodia.
We make this recipe every year, adapted from The Elephant Walk Cookbook. It’s a sweet rice dumpling holding a treasure of palm sugar, jackfruit, or banana, then rolled in toasted coconut or sesame seeds.
Sourseday Chnam Tnai!!