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The Vietnamese/Cambodian debate

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16 replies to this topic

#1 Ce'nedra

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 05:18 AM

When surfing online, I've come across countless foodie websites/forums/postings arguing on whether a particular dish is Vietnamese or Cambodian in origin.
I was never aware of this apparent misunderstanding/whatever you shall call it.

Anyway, I'm not well acquainted w/ Cambodian food AT ALL so I tried looking it up. There were alot of dishes that were similar, if not the same, including pho, bun bo hue, Vietnamese crepes, beef luc lac (I don't think I'm spelling it right, but apparently it means 'shaking' or something along those lines), rice paper and there's PLENTY more.

I've heard (or should I say read) a few Cambodians make the statement (online -not my personal experience) that 'all' Vietnamese food coming from the central and southern regions are Cambodian in origin due to those lands being originally Cambodian...I personally think it's quite silly to make such a general statement but because I have zilch knowledge in regards to all things Cambodian, I need to ask some other foodies here!

Any comments?

Edit: Interestingly, the other day my mum prepared a Cambodian dish (which I must say I only JUST discovered after eating it for probably 2 or 3 years). I don't know it's name but the noodles were similar to the tapioca noodle sort and ladled into my bowl was a creamy, shrimp-coconut milk soup...

Re-edit: I do agree, however, that there must be some influence vice versa since it's only natural when two or more countries border each other.

Edited by Ce'nedra, 11 April 2008 - 05:36 AM.

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#2 takadi

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Posted 11 April 2008 - 05:02 PM

From my vague knowledge, Southern and Central Vietnam was part of the ancient Khmer empire. In fact, I think Saigon was originally a Khmer name.

My family comes from Hanoi and they remembered moving to the South and describing it as being in a totally different country with different food and dialect, so that person's statement about Cambodian influences in the south may have some merit.

There's quite a strong culture of rivalry between Cambodians and Vietnamese, especially since alot of Cambodians see Vietnamese as the conquerers (though it happened centuries ago, lol). It's stupid, but you'd be surprised how many different "ethnic" groups out there have those sort of sensitivities.

#3 Big Bunny

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 06:14 AM

I am fascinated by this topic and would like to explore it. However, I am simply an "arm-chair" traveler. Over the years I have collected lots of cookbooks and tried as many recipes as possible.

Granting that reading and cooking from cookbooks in Baltimore is only a tiny glimpse of the real Asian scene, I still feel that one can learn a lot.

Cooking is all about history and geography. People bring old ideas to new places, and ingredients from here to there. Obviously, this has gone on in SE Asia for a long time.

Within my arm-chair limits, I have developed a good sense of the relationships between Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, and between Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. There are lots of really excellent books about all three.

I have only two books about Cambodian cooking:
"The Elephant Walk Cookbook" by Longteine de Monteiro
"The Cuisine of Cambodia" by Nusara Thaitawat
There are a few others "out there", but, in general, Cambodian cuisine is not well documented.

I have cooked enough Vietnamese, Cantonese and Sichuanese food to know that although all are related, they are all quite different. One way or another, geography rules all traditional cuisines. People do flow from place, but soils, climates, mountains and rivers determine who gets what to eat.

I have spent time reading the Cambodian books. They are very different from each other. I have yet to seriously cook from them, but would love to do so.

From what I have seen so far, Cambodian food relates to Southern Vietnamese food in much the same way as Southern Vietnamese relates to Northern Vietnamese, Northern Vietnamese to Lao, etc. There are borders - the borders are crossed - ideas exchange - but the land and water of each place give it a palette from which to work.

I'm rambling now, but I plan to spend more time on this. It fascinates me that I know so little about such an historically important culture. I will start planning some menus, then cook my way through.

Food is all about history and geography.

#4 nakji

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 06:42 AM

Well, I ate my way around Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia last year, and I saw plenty of differences and plenty of similarities. I ate "feu" in a bus stop in Northern Laos that was very practically identical to a bowl of pho I'd eaten across the border in Vietnam for breakfast that day, except that the rice noodles were dried and not fresh like they'd been in Vietnam. I ate a lot of Chicken with holy basil in Laos that seemed a lot like a dish I'd had in Thailand. And comparing my notes for a Thai red curry paste and Cambodian Amok, things seem quite similar, except for the types of chili used. I ate Luk Lak beef in Cambodia and Luc Lac beef in Vietnam, and they were both incredibly delicious (and usually served with french fries) in both places. So yeah, there's a lot the same, but since most people usually cook with what's close at hand, and all of these countries are dealing with similar geography, so of course recipes will travel. As to who invented them, well, that issue causes controversy all over the world. Ask the Italians who invented French cuisine!

What's needed here, Ce'nedra, is someone willing to continue eating around South East Asia, say for about 10 years or so, collecting recipes and oral histories from people in each country, preferably interspersed with long breaks at conveniently located beach resorts, to definitively resolve this issue.

I, for one, bravely volunteer. Who will come forward to sponsor me? :biggrin:

#5 Ce'nedra

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 07:53 AM

Thanks for the answering everyone (and sorry for the much delayed reply!). I have no doubt that some Vietnamese dishes are of Cambodian origin and vice versa but to state a whole region is crazy exaggeration.

Anyhow, I was told the many forms of fermented fish/shrimp, etc in Vietnam are in fact Cambodian in origin and yes, you can see many dishes in S. Vietnam using fermented pastes in their soups, etc.
Again, I'm not sure if there's any truth to this but it's sounds likely.

About the Cambodian shrimp-coconut milk noodle soup ish thing (basically, I have no idea what it's called) I previously mentioned, I finally uploaded a picture lol.
Anyone know what it is?
Posted Image
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#6 kevintieu

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Posted 18 January 2009 - 07:43 PM

I can't think of the name right now but that looks really good! I've had it many times before. Could it be banh canh?

#7 BonVivant

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 07:10 AM

the generic name for this thick noodle is ''banh canh''. there are a few soups using this noodle and they each have a name. anyone here actually in VN can help with them? in Siem Reap i had something like this for breakfast but it's not soupy at all, and besides, it's cold. it was really good considering i don't like coconut milk.

answer to original question: yes, some. but VN's food is much better. both cuisines reflect what the land provides and (foreign) influences. i too have eaten my way around both countries and enjoyed everything so immensely.

actually, last night i was looking at food photos in a VN cookery magazine [yes they have cookery mags and programmes there] and how i groaned! it's so tempting but i have got travel plans for the next 2 years so i just try and forget about VN food for now.

#8 Ce'nedra

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 04:14 PM

It's the same noodles as banh canh but I'm pretty sure the dish itself doesn't share the same name. I know this because my mum would've referred to it as that.

Anyway, thanks for helping me in bridging the gap of my knowledge b/w Viet and Cambodian food. I'm just wondering where Cambodian cuisine got its French influence? I don't recall the French invading Cambodia at any point....or I just realllyy need to my update my history awareness.
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#9 prasantrin

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 05:10 PM

or I just realllyy need to my update my history awareness.

View Post

I'd go with that one.

FWIW, I wouldn't have used the word "invade", though Cambodia was a French colony (ever hear of Indochina?)

#10 Ce'nedra

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 09:14 PM

Holy crap! And I always assumed it was only Vietnam!

Quite embarrassing really as I study some history (err mainly European but uhh...)...
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#11 Peter Green

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Posted 23 January 2009 - 10:24 AM

Don't fret, Ce'nedra. Everyone focuses on Indochine as Vietnam, but the French sphere incorporated Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and chunks of real estate up the valleys into Yunnan.

Cambodia found itself in a bad spot. With poor maritime trade, they couldn't compete with the Thai to the West, and the Viets to the East, and were traded back and forth between their neighbors.

Evils of imperialism aside ("la mission syphilatrice") the French left behind some wonderful culinary items. If you ask me for my favourite baguettes, I'd have to say Phnom Penh, by far (which will have my Lao friends in arms). For beignet and good coffee, I still think of the old Wattay airport lobby in Vientiane. Add in good wine, and a smattering of Algerian and Moroccan dishes, and I can think of few places I'd rather be than in Laos or Cambodia.

I seldom take breakfast, but I break this rule in Penh, where I'll get down to Sisowath Quay most mornings to take good coffee, an omelet or a croque m'sieur, and watch the Mekong go by while the cyclo drivers game on the sidewalk.

#12 kevintieu

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Posted 23 January 2009 - 11:03 AM

i'm visiting my parents for vietnamese new year, so i'll remember to ask my mom for the name of the dish. on that thought...why don't you ask your mom? haha

#13 Ce'nedra

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Posted 02 February 2009 - 09:25 PM

Peter Green: Thanks for making me feel less ahh stupid haha.
It's really interesting to see which French culinary traditions have left an imprint on Vietnamese/Cambodian/etc cuisine.

I'm wondering...for baguettes used for Vietnamese 'sandwiches', are they catered to the Vietnamese taste or left in its 'pure' (whatever that is) form?

Oh yes and to kevintieu and BonVivantNL, you are absolutely right! Mum told me its called banh canh tom hhahaha.
Never knew coconut would be in it...
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#14 BonVivant

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 06:13 AM

the Viet "baguettes", as far as i can remember, taste well just like 'normal' baguettes. i like it very much that they toast them before filling them up. speaking of which, i also like them stuffed with tinned sardines. even better are the meatballs and some sort of red coloured meat [probably Chinese style red pork].

filled baguettes in VN are superior to all i've ever tasted. worst are in Vientiane, and just ok are in PP [Cambodia]. Paris, Vancouver, southern Calif. ect are good enough :)

i've recently found some cookery books bought on my trip to VN back in 2004. there are a couple of banh canh soup recipes in one of them... the problem is they're all in Viet. where can i type in the text and get it translated?

#15 kevintieu

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 02:55 AM

Thanks for confirming, cuz I forgot to ask about it. We had hot pot that weekend, so my mind was far from banh canh.

#16 kevintieu

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 02:58 AM

you know what? that was a lie. we had thit kho for new years, not hot pot. and new years didn't fall on a weekend either, it was a weekday. And i did think about banh canh, but that was after i left my parents house...i'm so ashamed

#17 Scott Matvichuk

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Posted 25 December 2013 - 11:26 PM


the topic was quite interesting as I was researching on the same issue...I came over to my in-laws' house for Christmas party and they were serving a "spring roll" dish from the niece's new mother-in-law who are Cambodian, I was astounded to find the similarity in ingredients except that they used pork roll in filling instead of pork slices and the lack of chives and mints so I had to go home and do some rerearch to find out the dish's origin, I would prefer the Vietnamese version as it tasted better and my American born children said mine tasted better,which made me feel real good :)

by the way, the "banh canh" dish  is actually called "banh canh mien tay" where they add coconut milk into the broth to make it milky and rich, hope this helps :)