Rice noodles are a staple food in many Asean countries and globally few people would be unaware of pre-packed instant noodles, or cup noodle snacks. But the dry form of rice noodles that many consumers are aware of are far from the way people in Cambodia consume rice noodles. In Cambodia rice noodles (Num Banh Chok) are not only a common breakfast component, but also part of the country’s national identity.
According to Cambodian folklore rice noodles originated in Cambodia and were introduced to China by Thun Chey, a third-century peasant who was exiled there after incurring the wrath of a Khmer king. In China he sold Num Banh Chok for a living — according to legend the first time the Chinese had eaten rice noodles — with his reputation seeing him summonsed to prepare the unique dish for a Chinese Emperor. Incurring the wrath of the emperor he was thrown into jail, before being deported back to Cambodia.
Traditionally served with Somlor Kari, a salty, sweet, spicy and sour Khmer curry, or Somlor Proher, a soup of which the main ingredient is a mashed fresh water fish with lemongrass and other local herbs, Num Banh Chok is also commonly served in soup with beef, pork, chicken, or seafood, accompanied by vegetables including thinly sliced cucumbers, bean spout, banana blossom, long beans, water lily stems, chilies, basil, and mint. Most Khmer eat Num Banh Chok many times a week.
While market demands mean that a large amount of the Num Banh Chok consumed daily in Cambodia is produced in factories, traditionally made Num Banh Chok with no preservatives remains popular with consumers, and a valuable skill passed down from one generation to another.
The above video shows how Num Banh Chok is made using traditional methods. With a little effort you can make your own Cambodia rice noodles at home too… though we’d strongly recommend you check with local officials before setting up a wood-fired cooking pot outdoors.
The video begins with two girls spinning a wheel grinding rice that has been soaked for two to four hours into a runny paste. The paste is then compressed into dome shapes and dried inside calico bags, before being pummeled into a fine powder. The powder is then turned into a thick paste and squeezed through a tin can with holes in the bottom into a pot of hot water in a continues motion designed to produce kilometre-long Num Banh Chok.
After three or four minutes in the hot water the rice noodles are then transferred to cold water, before being drained and prepared for consumption, or in the case above, portioned and laid out for sale.
If you want to experience the real taste of Cambodia cuisine, grab a bowl of Num Banh Chok anywhere in the country, or at your local Cambodian restaurant.
Feature video BeesUnlimited
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