Language and food are so integral in understanding people’s cultures, today is special as I was able to eat mooncakes for the mid autumn festival and attend my first Khmer language class. To start I guess I have to say that I will have to become more informed earlier so I can more fully take part and experience each special day. Mid autumn festival is celebrated widely, but has its origins in China. Here in Cambodia it is celebrated by families of mixed heritage, expat Chinese and Khmer families who enjoy the special sweet food on offer. It is said to originate long ago when it was believed that there was a special relationship between the largest autumn moon and the harvest.
Traditions for this holiday vary slightly depending on where you are, but the many similarities are family gatherings, lanterns and mooncakes. Unfortunately, I was not organised enough to go make or see lanterns being displayed or released, a co-worker was able to help me buy some high-quality mooncakes. Independent as I am, when I tried to find a place on my food delivery app that sold and delivered them, most of the information was I Chinese and so I was a bit lost. At any rate, after exchanging a few texts my friend had me all lined up to have some treats delivered.
Arrival of the treats!
Opening the box
The selection I bought had a variety of flavours so it would be perfect to share. The next day in school (October1) was the actual day of the harvest moon and the official celebrations would take place. I asked many of my students, Chinese and Khmer alike and asked them how they celebrated at home and what their favorite flavour of mooncake was. One of the most popular flavours was egg, I guess the sweetness of the dough, the salty and creaminess of the egg yolk makes for a very indulgent treat.
Knowing I had a variety box made me smile, it would be so much fun to share with my fellow expats at our first Khmer language lesson later that night. We arrived and took a peek at the individual boxes, nothing really distinguished one from the other so we really were at the whim of fate in the type of cake we were about to try. We dug in with glee, honestly, the smiles and excitement were fun to share. Some of the flavours were egg, red bean, and taro. Some we couldn’t identify but enjoyed none the less. The cakes are made of a thin sweet dough on the outside, stamped with a symbol on top, dense paste-like filling inside. I would compare the filling to marzipan but smoother and sweeter.
Friends gathering to learn Khmer (our teacher is on the right) ready to try our mooncakes
Last one to try! (I need to get better at the whole selfie thing)
An egg one! Super yummy! I enjoyed it more than the taro one I tried at school!
We gobbled down our treats and began our first lesson in Khmer. Glad to know that the fist thing we learned was the proper way to say Khmer…think K-M-I. I’ve heard so many different people say this differently I figured both there fine, happy to know for certain and will try to always say it correctly from now on. The lesson was straight forward, listen and repeat. Nothing was written down. Honestly, this made me rather uncomfortable. There are many sounds that are very different than English I had been hoping to be able to read the words while concentrating on the sounds. Here’s the thing. The written language is very complicated and takes too long to learn to be practice for most foreigners and the language written with the roman alphabet is completely messed up. The sounds made are not at all like the phonetics we know so reading Khmer words written with the roman alphabet is virtually impossible. The way we have to attack it is to listen, make our own phonetic translation and practice aloud. We made it through our first lesson sounding not too terribly bad, but I will definitely have to practice using these new phrases during the next few days to ensure I really master them.
Well, here’s to food and language, two of my favorite things! Until next time my friends.