Cambodians in Long Beach celebrate Cambodia’s cuisine
Cambodian Restaurant Week, a week-long event promoting Khmer food in Long Beach, in the US state of California, is being held to bring people together and celebrate the Kingdom’s rich culinary history and share it with the multitude of ethnic communities in Long Beach, California, and around the US.
Long Beach Cambodian Restaurant Week is a California registered non-profit, organised by the United Cambodian Community (UCC) to pay homage to the unique foods of the Cambodian community.
“We are proud of this event, and this is the first time it has taken place in Long Beach,” said Sayon Syprasoeuth, UCC programme manager in Long Beach.
“We want to share our food with the rest of the world through this event, and to put ‘butts in seats’,” he says.
Syprasoeuth works to support local businesses by providing business counselling and many other social services, including through health, arts and youth workforce development.
Many of the 18 restaurants participating in the Cambodian Restaurant Week have physical locations in Long Beach, although some are entrepreneurs who run businesses from their homes.
Long Beach has a Khmer population of approximately 19,700, and there are many more Khmer in the surrounding cities, including Cerritos, Signal Hill, and Bellflower. The 2020 census showed about 87,000 Cambodians throughout the state of California.
“Long Beach is also a Sister City to Phnom Penh, and was named Cambodia Town, Long Beach, CA, in 2007,” said Syprasoeuth Syprasoeuth explained that Cambodian refugees formed the community after they arrived in the late 1970s.
“They had a need to survive and acclimatise to a new country,” he said.
“Many had difficulties speaking English, and accessing housing and basic needs like healthcare and social services was a challenge. That’s when they banded together and formed the UCC,” he added.
Syprasoeuth said the week-long celebrations aimed to support small businesses, by raising their visibility and promoting their wares to non-Cambodian people.
This event is an opportunity to support local Cambodia Town restaurants during this challenging time while food lovers get to eat, drink, and try new places.
Featured eateries will offer a Long Beach Cambodian Restaurant Week special or offer special $5, $10, $15 or $20 menus.
“Most local Khmer people in Long Beach know their unique cuisine, but we hope we will instil some pride in the younger generation about their rich culture,” he added.
“We want to support all start-ups and get people licensed if that’s what they want to do, and/or maybe help them open a physical shop when they are ready,” he told The Post.
The 18 restaurants that are a part of this week’s activities, which will run from March 19 to 26, are offering up a wide variety of mouth-watering Khmer favourites, including traditional barbeque, lok lak and sticky rice.
More than 500 people attended the opening day of the food festival, held at the Long Beach City College.
“We got tonnes of promotion through social media and local news outlets. Typically, most restaurants will see an increase in 25 per cent in sales and foot traffic,” added Syprasoeuth.
Khut Sophy runs Sophy’s: Cambodia Town Food & Music, located on the Pacific Coast Highway. She offers a wide range of well known dishes, but wasn’t shy about sharing her favourites.
“I’m gonna go with Amok, one of the national dishes of Cambodia. It features steamed fish with coconut and kroeung, which is a unique fish paste. I also offer Prohok Khtis, which is made from pork and fermented fish. Fermented fish is one of the main items that we use for almost every dish that we cook – soup, stir fry, dumplings,” she told local news channel KTLA TV.
During a special TV segment that aired ahead of the week of celebrations, Sophy also introduced some special deserts that she learned from her mother.
“The last three years were very difficult for everyone during the pandemic, especially restaurants. We hope to continue to support our Khmer and minority owned small businesses and restaurants in Long Beach,” said Syprasoeuth.
“No one was eating out, and if they operated at all they were sending it out through delivery services. This event is part of our community work to help support and bring visibility to these restaurants through partnerships and collaborations,” he added.
After Cambodian Restaurant Week is finished, the UCC is planning to hold the Sangkranti Festival on April 1.
Muong Nareth, a Long Beach official who supports the local community, said the Khmer New year event was going to be special.
“This is the first time the Long Beach council will hold the Sangkranti Festival. The event is similar to Khmer New Year, but this one will celebrate the many different communities of Long Beach. It’s about valuing and respecting all people including Khmer, Thai and Lao,” he explained.
Nereth, a former journalist, said he hoped that Cambodian people living in the US would come together to celebrate, and take in the Krong Khmer parade.