In Phnom Penh, Slurping Noodles and Tasting Home Again

An excerpt from author and cook Chantha Nguon's memoir recounts her first trip home to Cambodia after fleeing as a refugee—and the dish that made her feel at home once again.

Upon reaching Phnom Penh, our first act was searching for dinner.

I will never forget my first meal that truly tasted like home, after fourteen years in exile: It was fitting that it should be prahok—our defining (and aromatic) national condiment.

We found someone preparing a version very much like my mother’s splendid cooked prahok: mixed with kroeung spice paste, minced pork, and young tamarind leaves, all wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. Although I had never developed a taste for raw prahok as a child, that day the luscious, pungent fish was, for me, the flavor of Cambodia. I closed my eyes and drank in the familiar aromas. A sense of relief and well-being washed over me. Something essential from that lost world had survived, after all.

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