As a little girl in Phnom Penh in the early 1990s, Rotanak Ros would sell fresh vegetables with her mother. Cambodia was emerging from years of colonial rule, civil war and genocide, and life in its capital city was booming. Her mother, busy at the market, didn’t cook every day. But Ms. Ros fondly remembers the meals she prepared.
“Every single time she made something, it didn’t matter how simple it was, the flavors stayed with me,” Ms. Ros said.
Ms. Ros, a professional cook who has become something of a celebrity in Cambodia, where she is known as Chef Nak, grew up in a country trying to find its footing. She was born six years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, a brutal Communist regime that, from 1975 to 1979, killed at least 1.7 million people, devastating the country’s communities and its intellectual and cultural institutions.