The nostalgic comfort porridge being served at Battambang restaurant

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Bobor Pek is better-known among Cambodia’s older generation than the young, as they lived through the Kingdom’s simplified cuisine during the Khmer Rouge era. Hong Menea

Called Bobor Pek by Battambang residents, or Bobor Prong in other provinces, this vegetable rice porridge is better-known among Cambodia’s older generation than the young, as they lived through the Kingdom’s simplified cuisine during the Khmer Rouge era.

Kith Choronay, the owner of restaurant Bobor Pek Battambang, is proud to be one of very few restaurants today to serve this nutritious Khmer porridge.

“It’s turned out to be successful. Many people like it and it’s sold very well. The dish is becoming part of the identity of Battambang province too as many residents do enjoy it,” said the 30-year-old restaurateur.

At her humble restaurant situated in front of the beautiful colonial-era Battambang City Hall, a middle-aged chef is busy filling bowl after bowl with green porridge as customers wait patiently.

“I think many people like it, but I can’t see many people dedicated to serving it. If you really crave Bobor Pek, most of the time you have to cook it at home. Seeing the lack of places offering this kind of traditional Khmer porridge, I decided to bring my homemade porridge to the restaurant table,” Choronay said.

Born in 1990, Choronay grew up seeing older people in her province enjoy the vegetable porridge. However, she says she knows little about it besides its ingredient.

“I don’t know where and when this porridge originated, though I have seen it is a favourite homemade dish my whole life.

“Some people say it tastes like a Khmer vegetable soup called Proher. Yes, it does. It’s like Proher soup with rice all in one pot,” she says.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Though there are no history records about Bobor Pek or Bobor Prong, it is believed that the porridge originated from ethnic minority groups in Cambodia. Hong Menea

Even 69-year-old Khmer Rouge survivor Huot Morn, a native of Battambang province who made and ate the porridge during the era, said he only knows that the dish existed long before he was born.

Now living in Phnom Penh, he said seeing photos of the porridge circling on social media made him feel melancholic, but he said he wanted to try it again.

“When I see people selling Bobor Prong, or some call it Bobor Pek, it reminds me of my hard life 40 years ago.

“It was an unforgettable experience. I had to collect leaves and spices, and I didn’t know whether they were edible or not. We boiled them with rice to make porridge that is far more primitive in terms of taste compared to what you eat now. I can see in those photos, it looks delicious with meat, snail and fish. I can tell you it is way better than what I ate to fight hunger,” Morn said.

Though there are no history records about Bobor Pek or Bobor Prong, it is believed that the porridge originated from ethnic minority groups in Cambodia.

Nach Nob, a coordinator for Andong Kraleong ecotourism in Mondulkiri province, claimed that Bobor Prong originated from a soup made by the Pnorng ethnic minority.

Bobor Prong is a Khmer version that derives from our [Pnorng] soup. Bobor Prong is a Pnorng signature dish,” said the 32-year-old ethnic minority member, who can speak fluent Khmer and English.

Bobor Prong is cooked in bamboo by using seasonal leafy vegetables. There is no restriction on the vegetables you can use as an ingredient. You can just pick this and that in the forest or around the garden and put it in the bamboo or cooking pot. Older generations prefer to add dried meat and smoked buffalo skin to enrich the soup’s taste.”

Mae Sreypik, a chef from the Tumpoun ethnic minority group, said Bobor Prong is the most popular soup for her people as historically it was convenient to prepare in the jungle.

“Our ancestors didn’t need to carry a cooking pot. We only needed a bamboo tree to cook the soup, and this method makes the smell better than a modern cooking pot. Too cook the soup, many green leaves are collected and put in the bamboo along with the ground spices. Then we heat the bamboo for about half an hour so it is well-cooked,” she said.

In addition to the lead ingredient fish paste, Sreypik also uses green banana, pumpkin leaves, pumpkin, long beans, eggplant, taro stem, bamboo shoots, pork and fish,” she said.

But unlike ethnic groups who include bamboo shoots and taro, Battambang restaurateur Choronay prefers to skip these two ingredients.

“In some regions, people cook Bobor Prong with a greater variety of vegetables including bamboo shoots and taro. For me, the taste of bamboo shoot is delicious, but it’s not good for your health in general. For taro, I exclude it because I personally don’t like it,” Choronay said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Kith Choronay, the owner of restaurant Bobor Pek Battambang. Hong Menea

“Here, when I cook Bobor Pek, I will boil the soup and cook the rice separately. When the customer orders, I mix the rice with the soup one by one so it tastes fresher.”

Choronay’s restaurant cooks its Bobor Pek with spinach, ivy gourd, climbing wattle, baby corn, red corn, gourd, pumpkin, fish, lemongrass and the spice galanga. In addition, a few varieties of mushroom are added.

A bowl of porridge costs 4,000 riel ($1) for a small and 5,000 riel for a larger portion. The restaurant’s special, containing snail, fresh water fish head and fish eggs, costs 7,000 riel.

Also on offer is stir fried snail, papaya salad with crab, shrimp and clams (all $3 or less).

Bobor Pek Battambang is located on Street 3 in front of Battambang City Hall. The restaurant can be contacted by telephone (093 692 168 and 0816 666 30).