In Cambodia, pepper is on a pedestal

In northern Cambodia, even the names exude an ancient romanticism. Angkor Wat. Phnom Bakheng. Phimeanakas. Meandering miles of movie-perfect temples. Join the masses at dawn and stumble through, awed by the stone intricacies of lost centuries.

In southern Cambodia, it’s a romance of a different sort, a marriage taken for granted turned on its head. Unfurling across the shores and valleys of Kampot Province — 1,800 square miles wedged between the Gulf of Thailand and Vietnam — is the soul of Cambodian food: salt and pepper. But not how we know them.

Start at the coast, where men with pant legs rolled wade methodically across a mirror-like grid cut into brown earth, ponds sectioned by a patchwork of ochre dirt roads stretched to a stark horizon. Get closer and the mirrors break into a million refractions of captured light.

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