The Portuguese Influence on Cambodian Cuisine
06 November 2018
Krob Knor (jackfruit seed dessert) is a direct descendant of Portugal’s fios de ovos (egg threads).
He mentions the independent character of the king and warlike nature of the people, before going on to itemise the things Cambodia had that might be interesting to trade. In particular, Cambodia produced “quantities of rice and good meat, fish and wines of its own kind,”, gold, lac, ivory, and dried fish (essential to seafarers). Cambodia was a trading nation, unlike Champa which depended mostly on agriculture, and Pires noted the presence of imported fine white cloths from Bengal, a little pepper, cloves, vermilion, quicksilver, liquid storax and red beads. Cambodia, moreover, was a country with “many horses and elephants”.
These journeys set in train a process of cross-pollination of a tremendous number of fruits and vegetables, including papaya, tomatoes, pineapple, peanuts, cashews, avocados, vanilla, custard apples, passionfruit and sweet potatoes from the New World (South America) to the old (Europe and Asia). It was the Portuguese who brought the South American chilli to Asia, where it was adopted with such gusto that it has become a defining feature of cuisines such as Thai and Indian. Europe’s chefs on the other hand were not so enthusiastic about this delicious spice, despite medical conclusions that the fiery pepper offered comfort and healing, promoting gastric health.
Krob Knor (jackfruit seed dessert) is a direct descendant of Portugal’s fios de ovos (egg threads). In Cambodia, it is a traditional dessert made from cooked yellow split mung beans, coconut milk and sugar. The mass is moulded into oval balls, then dipped in egg yolk and cooked in boiling sugar syrup and then dipped into cold sugar syrup.
In a neat circling of life, Longteine de Monteiro (the wife of a descendant of one of the earliest 16th century Portuguese to arrive in Cambodia, whose family went on to occupy important positions in Cambodia’s courts and politics) describes a recipe for golden angel hair in The Elephant Walk Cookbook, a collection of recipes from her immensely popular Boston restaurant.
The Portuguese and Spanish attack the new king, slaughtering him, his family and court and destroying their palace. The massacre lasted for a whole night leaving “the earth strewn with corpses, the streets running with blood, the women wailing, some for their husbands, some for their sons, others for their brothers and so the city seemed like Rome burned, Troy annihilated, or Carthage destroyed” as described by Dominican friar, Gabriel de San Antonio, in his book Brief and Truthful Accounts of the Events in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Though the Portuguese influence on Cambodia lives on, not only through ingredients and flavours, but through something we all touch every day, the Riel, which is probably derived from the Portuguese unit of currency, the Real, which was in use from 1430 to the beginning of the 20th century.
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