As we gear up for Thanksgiving here in America, we thought we’d take some time to reflect a bit on the act of eating. We’re very excited to present a contribution from a guest author! Ryana DeArmond is the Resident Training Chef at the Green Mango Cafe & Bakery in Battambang, Cambodia. Here, she’s shared with us some fundamental questions about eating in America, and across the globe in Cambodia.
And, Ryana’s name should sound familiar — she is the Chef behind many of the recipes in the Green Mango Cafe Cookbook, the benefit cookbook we released in October! Ryana is both an amazing chef and mentor to the young women in the vocational culinary training program. Check out the cookbook here if you are interested; proceeds go to help fund programs like these for young at-risk women in Cambodia.
Last month I traveled to Bangkok. Bangkok is totally different than Battambang. It reminds me of being in Chicago instead of Southeast Asia. Many shops, malls, and Ikea. There were restaurants upon restaurants, anything from Outback to Burger King to noodles shops to Krispy Kreme and giant lattes on the the street for $1. Being in a big city, there were plenty of fine dining restaurants. After a couple days, I could no longer resist the chef inside me. I was going to splurge and have a nice meal.
I ended up choosing an Italian place that made all fresh pastas and had a beautiful brick pizza oven. Carefully reading every dish on the menu to pick the perfect one, I gave in to the Duck Confit Pasta with fresh black truffles and a glass of pinot gris. They brought out artisan breads, a nice veggie plate for starters, then the pasta. It was full of duck and truffles, and I was shocked. Most places that use truffles only give you a thin slice or two, because of the cost. It was a wonderful meal. Yes, it was costly for what I am accustomed to now, but it was no where near the most costly meal I have eaten. Adding coffee and dessert from the street, my night out cost just under $20.
On my walk back to the hotel, I began thinking. Thinking about how I eat, how I choose what to eat, how I am able to buy what I want. The girls [students the Green Mango Cafe] also came to mind, because I guess I was missing them. That got me thinking about how they eat, how they choose what to eat? I eat for taste. If it doesn’t taste good, I’m not eating it, even if it’s cheap.
As I talked to CGI’s Cambodian director about her recent trip to America, one thing that stuck out in her mind was that food and eating isn’t important to Americans. At first I didn’t understand where she was coming from. I know Americans like to eat, because they spend lots of money on food. Then she explained, “Your people eat just to eat, some even eat in their cars. Here in Cambodia, eating is an event.” When Cambodians have a meal, they stop to sit down with the whole family and friends, to eat and be with each other. No matter how big or small the meal is, it’s more about sharing it with the people who are the closest to them.
During your next meal, think about why and how you eat. Do you eat because it’s meal time or because you are hungry? When you eat, is it just to eat or is it to connect and share with one another? How would your meal times be different if you ate in a way to be in community with others? Would your food selection change if you were eating to survive?
-Ryana De Armond, Resident Training Chef, Green Mango Cafe & Bakery (Battambang, Cambodia)