As Rotanak Ros stands over the stove, peering intently at the thin, dark amber sauce she’s rapidly stirring together in a skillet, an incredible aroma wafts into the air.
Garlic and shallots, sautéed until browned and fragrant, form the backbone. To that, Ros has added brown sugar, caramelized to deepen its molasses-y sweetness; fish sauce, pungent and savory; and tamarind, a touch sweet but mostly mouth-puckeringly sour.
Together, Ros says as she offers me a spoonful to taste, they perfectly demonstrate the balance of contrasting flavors—sweet, savory, sour—that defines much of Khmer, or Cambodian cuisine—what I’ve come to her to learn about, and what she’s traveled to New York City, all the way from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to teach.
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