Cambodian wedding food in Tbaeng Meanchey

I’ve been reticent about reviewing Cambodian wedding cuisine because regardless of how tenuous my link is to the happy couple, I’m still wary of reviewing private events lest friends stop inviting me to their houses to sample their attempts at cooking and imbibe their booze. If you spend any length of time in Cambodia, you’ll attend a wedding. They tend to be massive affairs held either in the gargantuan reception warehouses dotted around Phnom Penh or in a tent in the middle of the street, in front of a relative’s house. Knowing the bride or groom is not a prerequisite to being invited.

Cambodian wedding food constitutes a whole genre of its own and much like the wedding ceremony, it tends to draw on an array of foreign influences. In Phnom Penh, it’s not uncommon to have a Western-style, towering wedding cake, Thai tom yam soup, Chinese stir frys and a bottle of imported whiskey all at the same meal. Regardless of the food, the format of the meal is prescribed: set tables of ten (or eight in Sihanoukville*) are served as soon as they are seated. If your group is smaller than ten, random strangers will join your table or else you can join theirs as food will not be served until your table is full.

First comes a set of pickles and amusé (for lack of a better word), which in the past has included steamed pigs’ ears, cashew nuts, pickled vegetables, spring rolls, faux meats, and once, slices of Spam. A soup and a few mains follow that are shared by the whole table. The mains depend on the budget of the wedding, ranging from langoustine or whole steamed fish to stir-fried offal.

Wedding Food in Tbaeng Meanchey, Cambodia

When I was in Tbaeng Meanchey in Cambodia’s north for a night, the only restaurant in town, Darareah, was booked out for a wedding. So instead of harassing the overstretched kitchen into cooking us something else, we ordered the wedding food.

Wedding Food in Tbaeng Meanchey, Cambodia
Round 1: Mustard pickles

These were some of the best Cambodian pickles I’ve ever eaten. Very simple garlic, chilli and mustard-y green. This far north in Cambodia, there is more of a preference for chilli-hot foods and the liberal use of chilli serves this pickle no disrespect.

Wedding Food in Tbaeng Meanchey, Cambodia
Round 2: Stir-fried mixed vegetables with rehydrated pork skin.

The purpose of rehydrated pork skin is a mystery. After it is removed from the pig, the skin is deep-fried into thin sheets and then rehydrated when the mood takes you. It adds practically no pork flavour to anything and tends to lurk at the bottom of Cambodian soups and stir-frys, surprising diners with the mouthfeel equivalent of stepping on a beached jellyfish. Cauliflower turns up in the strangest parts of Cambodia and this place is no stranger.

Wedding Food in Tbaeng Meanchey, Cambodia
Round 3: Stir-fried pipes with pepper and sugar

Sweet, sweet offal candy! Along with watery sour soup and stirfried morning glory, this dish is one of the staples of Cambodian village travel. I’m not sure what one of the parts in this intestine stir-fry is, but I do know it comes from a pig. The other parts come from a pepper tree, sugar cane and the industrial glutamate factories of Ajinomoto.

Wedding Food in Tbaeng Meanchey, Cambodia
Round 4: Tom Yam soup

The more time I spend travelling South East Asia, the more that I’m convinced that tom yam soup is becoming the South East Asian equivalent of pizza, a food that has become detached from its point of origin to become a regionally-specific genre of its own, for example Malaysian tom yam. This close to the Thai border however, Khmer tom yam is indistinguishable from Thai tom yam nam khon.

Location: Darareah Restaurant, next to the roundabout in Tbaeng Meanchey, Preah Vihear province. If you’re visiting the Preah Vihear ruins from the Cambodian side, you’ll inevitably eat there as dining options in the town are limited.

* – At an event with some coworkers in Sihanoukville, I asked why there were only eight seats per table in this province and ten in other provinces. “It’s lucky” they answered. “It’s lucky because in Sihanoukville, we get to eat more food.”

8 thoughts on “Cambodian wedding food in Tbaeng Meanchey”

  1. I spent half a day trawling through Cambodian cellphone numbers with a concerned workmate to ensure that my number had an 8 in it. Half a day that I’ll never get back.

  2. hmmm, it’s the long “lucky” mole hairs that disturb me the most. It is widely held that to grow long hairs out of moles on your face brings fortune, however I always like to remind people it most likely brings unluck with women – ugh

  3. Such restraint!! Not one joke about the restaurant’s unfortunate name for English speaking customers … Needless to say, I have no such restraint. Darareah! Hilarious!!

  4. oh whoops, I hadn’t noticed…unfortunate….that’s pretty good, we should have a competition for ‘worst english named establishments in Cambodia’. My vote would go to the Hor Bunny hotel in Kratie

  5. unsuspecting vegetarians who may be invited to these events , be warned- if cambodian food in general is veg-unfriendly then weddings are even worse and the potential for embarrassment (of self and of the host family) is great – i was once at a wedding seating 500+ people – the only food i could eat was deep fried cashews. with a beer chaser. (this would qualify as one of the most disgusting meals i have ever had if it weren’t for the unfortunate case of Stir Fried Gourd i encountered at a village in SR). worth it for the strange cultural experience but not in a hurry to repeat…

  6. No offense DJ, but I came to view many western vegetarians with a great deal of disdain during my 3 years in Cambodia. Not all mind you. I did have a vege friend who relaxed her approach to vegetarianism in Cambodia, understanding that while it very much makes sense from an ecological and humane standpoint in the west, it is the ultimate luxury, even ethnocentric indulgence, to turn down protein in a food scarce country such as Cambodia. One should be flexible in such circumstances.

  7. oh yes maytel don’t worry i agree with you for the most part – vegism is quite a ridiculous concept in Cambodia. but after 18 years – i find i lack both the flexible morals and the stomach lining required for an on-the-spot conversion. i was lucky to work with locals who had encountered many vegos before and in fact were quite relieved that at communal meals they got to eat all the meat…!

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