Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I love the way that my Cambodian friends seem to come together in a kitchen. Starting at the market around 7 am, watching them in action is like observing the industrious and mysterious workings of a beehive or colony of termites. First someone comes up with a plan. What will we make today? Once the plan is agreed, everyone spreads out in their own separate directions to the meat stalls, to the dry goods, to the green grocers to collect the requisite ingredients. It's not at all clear who's buying what or how much, but somehow, when we reconnoiter back at the house, all the ingredients are there in perfect ratio.
At this point, I pull out my pad and paper and start to take assiduous notes -- what's that vegetable? fry for how long? but can you substitute...? -- while the others are in a flurry of chopping, peeling and pounding all around me. As at the market, the flow is remarkable. At any one time, there can be 5 to 10 pairs of hands in the mix yet it seems like the old adage about "too many cooks" just doesn't hold true here. There are 4 dishes going on at once, and the person peeling the shallots seems to know just how many to do and where they all belong. Neighbors come and go, lending a hand, squatting to pound some fish, falling seamlessly into the action for a few minutes before heading home to cook their own meal. There's gossip, laughing, tasting, scolding, and then miraculously, there's lunch.
We spread a mat on the floor, dish out the rice, and partake. Generally the eating portion is done in a fraction of the time it takes to prepare -- no longer than 20 minutes, and then the dishes are swept away, the mat rolled, and each one to her house and a nap. The cooking is obviously the main event of our "small parties," the eating merely a polite afterthought.
I'm going to miss this camaraderie that came from chopping, frying, and learning alongside all my friends.