There are, as Mike Sula points out in this week’s Reader review, no Cambodian restaurants in Chicago. So to dive into the cuisine of the south Asian country, he finds a backdoor: The festival of Pchum Ben, Ancestors’ Day, a fifteen-day religious celebration that is celebrated this weekend with copious amounts of food, and is open to the public.
On his visit, Sula finds dishes that are reminiscent of — but not identical to — Thai flavors: sweet curries, distilled fishy flavors, coconut, pickled greens, basil, mint, lemongrass, peanuts, and cucumbers all come into play. But the dishes are much subtler: where Thai food is, say, extreme mega bmx snowboarding, Cambodian food might clock in as fencing: not so much brute-force adrenaline, but still plenty engaging and calling on skill and technique. He also checks in with Kathy Reun, a who works for the Cambodian Association of Illinois, and is an active figure in the fight against diabetes — the disease is prevalent among the Cambodian community.
The article is augmented by a roundup of thirteen uptown Asian restaurants — while none are Cambodian, you can still catch a glimpse of some of the flavors involved. Included in the roundup are Pho 777, Silver Seafood, and MP favorite Thai Pastry.
[Photo: a Cambodian seafood-noodle dish, via nextography’s Flickr]