Cambodian ambassador in South Korea bridges cultural divide through food

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
At his residence in the South Korean capital Seoul, Cambodian ambassador to South Korea Long Dimanche and his wife Nhem Davy cook Cambodian classics samlor kokor (soup with a variety of vegetables) and roast chicken with banana flowers, presenting the food to a group of visiting Korean journalists. Niem Chheng

It is a busy Monday as usual for the Ambassador of Cambodia to the Republic of Korea Long Dimanche and his wife Nhem Davy, as they handle the Kingdom’s diplomatic relations in South Korea while also ensuring the smooth-running of consular services to the some 60,000 Cambodians residing in the country.

But despite their packed schedules, the couple recognises the importance of sharing Cambodian culture, and have made time to present the Kingdom’s food to their Korean hosts.

At his residence in the South Korean capital Seoul, the ambassador and his wife cook Cambodian classics samlor kokor (soup with a variety of vegetables) and roast chicken with banana flowers, presenting the food to a group of visiting Korean journalists.

Pumpkin porridge, an sam chek (a steamed banana rice snack), num bott (a steamed bean-filled rice snack) and num kom (another bean-filled rice snack) are then presented as desserts.

Davy said she selected this particular food as they are traditionally eaten daily back in the Kingdom, and can easily be reproduced in South Korea using the extensive produce on offer in Seoul’s markets.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Davy (right) said she selected the food as it is traditionally eaten daily back in the Kingdom, and can easily be reproduced in South Korea with the extensive produce on offer in Seoul’s markets. Niem Chheng

“The roast chicken mixed with banana flowers is a popular dish in Cambodia and it is delicious too. Banana flowers are also very popular when used as an appetiser in Khmer noodles num banhchok.

“These are the easiest things to find in Cambodia, so I wanted to show what Cambodians prefer to eat daily.

“We also have many vegetables to put in the samlor koko, including papaya, eggplant, pumpkin and green banana.

“However, we don’t have moringa leaves and piper lolot in South Korea, which are important ingredients. Fortunately, we have planted bitter melon and we can use its leaves,” she said.

Davy said Koreans are fond of eating beef, so at a previous cultural exchange event she made beef lok lak. Fish amok, perhaps Cambodia’s most well-known dish among Western tourists, also featured at the event.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Davy (right) said she selected the food as it is traditionally eaten daily back in the Kingdom, and can easily be reproduced in South Korea with the extensive produce on offer in Seoul’s markets.

Presenting Cambodian culture to South Koreans was a way to share knowledge and would result in mutual respect and understanding, she said.

“The staff and I at the embassy are proud and delighted to have presented Khmer food and products to Koreans during public and private events. We have already promoted our culture of food through the Korean media and the Asean-Korean Centre.

“Keeping our identity through food, desserts, clothing and manners is what we should do,” she stressed.

Dimanche said the embassy was continually taking opportunities to host exhibitions and fairs to showcase Cambodian culture, with the Korean authorities regularly organising multicultural fairs to encourage cultural exchange among the country’s foreign communities.

“We also organise cultural parades by mobilising the Cambodian community here, as well as host other activities like chhai yam [a drum and dance performance], lbok kator [a traditional Khmer martial art also known as bokator] and traditional dances.

“Since I have been here, I have also organised Maha Sangkran [Khmer New Year] every year to show our ancient culture. This is to celebrate with the Cambodian community and at the same time present our culture to others too,” he said.

South Korea is a popular option among Cambodian expatriate workers wishing to earn more money and send home remittances.

They have flocked to South Korea since the two countries reached a memorandum of understanding on human resource development in 2017, with an estimated 60,000 currently in the country.

Each year there is considerable competition to gain a place among the 4,000 Cambodian workers that South Korea requests to fill a variety of jobs annually.

They earn some $1,200 to $1,300 a month in the agricultural sector and $1,700 to $1,800 in the industrial sector.

About $300 million is sent to relatives back in the Kingdom annually.