Oh Sh*t With Every Bite

A broken MacBook charger led me to spend the day working at my grandparents’ place. I was able to find a replacement from my cousins.

I had the fortune of sticking around long enough for my grandfather to make one of my favorite Khmer dishes: Kaw.

The first bowl brought me so much joy and excitement. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed Cambodian food! Nevermind my grandfather’s cooking or my mother’s.

The second bowl brought deeper thoughts: these meals that I’ve been so fortunate to enjoy my entire life are authentic as fuck! Their recipes were probably passed down for generations, only by demonstration, and never written down (asian cooks are notorious for keeping recipes in their noggin).

Both of my parents' families are victims of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot's regime was one of the fiercest and most shameful atrocities of mankind. My relatives were forced to flee their homeland with little more than their lives. This bowl I was enjoying so casually survived that. Mind. Blown.

My epiphany made each bite mean so much more. The love that went into every pot. How the recipe evolved through time as my ancestors tweaked it to their linking. How I followed my parents' gastronomic footsteps by subsisting on Cambodian cuisine growing up, just like their parents before them, and so on.

The level of mastery that went into making this salty and sweet soy sauce based stew is profound. Growing up, I used to get so giddy whenever my mom made it. I’m gonna feel the same after she says yes to my request to make some more. Because of course she’ll say yes. Because of course I’m her favorite son who’s visiting from the other end of the country. #hehe

As I work through the day and load up on homemade goodness, I thought about how I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Kaw back in Hollywood unless I made the hour long trek to some restaurant in Long Beach. There’s going to be a day where I won’t be able to enjoy homemade Cambodian cooking anymore.

The most tragic aspect is that this recipe which survived through so much is going to die. I don’t cook Cambodian food at all (does rice count? Cause I can do that in a pot). Right now, it’s my freakin’ fault for not ensuring that they live on! When it comes to continuing traditions, one generation is all it takes. Likewise, one generation is all it takes to ruin the momentum.

my uncle stopped by for a bowl of awesome. Apparently he was trying to tell me something…

As a first born, first generation Asian American, there’s this sense of pride and duty that I have with my identity. I want to honor my relatives’ sacrifice with success and retain my heritage as much as possible. As many of us take the lead in growing up in a country away from the motherland, I want to carve my own path. Most of all, I hope to be a resource that will help bring success not just to other Cambodians, but people of the world. I wonder how many others feel that way too.

Speaking Khmer is something I’m extremely comfortable with and proud of. I don’t know too many other millennials who could converse with their grandparents in their native tongue. I know that’s not enough, though. Keeping the culture and traditions alive is something I always talk about yet do so little of. I chose to learn French instead of Khmer when I was in high school. I can’t read or write Khmer at all, nor have I visited the motherland yet. #Ugh.

Like literature and artwork, recipes are also artifacts that genuinely represent Cambodian heritage! Mind. Blown. Again. Keeping them intact and passing them down should be revered just as much as anything tangible. Recipes are more useful than some artwork or centerpiece; much tastier and easier to pass down.

Huugggee shout out to my mom for coming home from her 9-5 to cook us a different dish pretty much every single day. I’ll always love and miss your food, Mama Prak. Oh yeah, I love you too!

My cousin pointed out how our younger siblings can’t appreciate the cuisine, how they instead focus on eating snacks and ordering out; assimilation at its finest.

Making sure our kids and future generations have the chance to appreciate this food is on me. Respecting my identity and eternalizing a part of my ancestors’ history is the same.

I need to do more. We all should.