Photo Essays

Food: The Ingredient that Binds Us Together

By: Ena Im

Num Banh Chok is the name of a Khmer rice noodle that is made from fermented rice. Num Banh Chok is among the famous traditional Khmer dishes in Cambodia. Usually, Cambodian people eat it in the morning or afternoon. There are three types of Khmer noodles: small, medium and large noodles. Most of the time, people use the large one on special occasions like engagements, festivals or ceremonies in a village. Khmer rice noodle is traditionally served with Somlor Kari, which is Khmer curry, or Somlor Proher, a soup who’s main ingredient is a mashed freshwater fish with lemongrass and other local herbs. You can find Khmer rice noodles everywhere in Cambodia because it is one of the most well-known and famous foods in Cambodia. Photo by: Phearum Sorn


Many houses in Siem Reap make Khmer rice noodles, and one of the houses is located in Teaksen Tboung village, Kouk Chak commune, Siem Reap district in Siem Reap province. The house is located to the west of Psa Derm Krolanh (Derm Krolanh market). Photo by: Ena Im


Chean Vanna, age 50                                                 Owner of the Khmer rice noodle house. “I’ve continued the tradition of working as a Khmer rice noodle maker from my parents since 1998.” “To make Khmer rice noodle is not easy. There are many steps to making it and my clothes get dirty every day, but it is easy to earn profits because most Cambodian like to eat it”. Photo by: Dyna Chem


Sopheak, age 26                                                                Chean Vanna’s relative. He comes to help his uncle every day from 3:00 am until 2:00 pm in the afternoon. He said, “Because I don’t have parents and Chean Vanna is my only Relative, I decided to work with him”. “I also know that doing this work is not easy, but I have to do it because it is one of your traditional foods. If I stop doing it, our country will lose this food, so I will continue doing this until my last breath.” Photo by: Dyna Chem       


Vanna Vannate, age 22                                                        Son of the owner, Chean Vanna. He helps his father every day to make Khmer rice noodles, He said, “Even though I know that my clothes get dirty every day, a lot of smoke heat my eyes and I have to wake up early in the morning, I still want to do it because I want to help my father”. Photo by: Dyna Chem


Lay, age 52                                                                              One of the workers at the Khmer rice noodle house. She chose to work there because the place is close to her house and it is something that she loves to do. “I work as a noodle shaper, which means I have to shape 500 kg of noodle every day” She comes to shape the noodle from 3:00 am to 2:00 pm. Photo by: Viriya Savoeun




The workers’ eyes tear up every day because it is very smoky due to the burning wood that the noodle makers use to boil the water. Photo by: Ena Im


The first step in making Khmer rice noodle is to make the flour. First of all, the rice grain is immersed for ten hours and then taken to be ground. After grinding, the rice is placed in fabric bags, where big rocks are placed on top to get rid of excess water. Photo by: Ena Im


Khmer rice noodle is made from fermented rice and has to be ground with a heavy stone mill. A lot of effort and energy is needed to move the stone mill. As science has modernized society, people have started to use machines to help them grind the fermented rice because it is way easier and saves more time. Chean Vanna said, “it is really hard to use the heavy stone mill because I have to push and pull really hard to make it work. It took me so many times just to grind it, so I decided to use a machine and connect it with the heavy stone mill.” “After adding the machine, I realized that it saved me a lot of time and made things easier.” His business started to have success from that point on. More customers came to him and he didn’t have to do as much work as before. Photo by: Wathna Sao                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
After letting the water drain for 45 minutes, the flour is taken out of the fabric bag. By then, the flour has become very sticky. Then, the noodle maker cuts some of the pieces out to make it exactly 11.5 kg because about  1.5 kg of weight is lost before the final process. Since he wants to make noodles in taches of  10 kg, so he measures out exactly 11.5 kg. Photo by: Leza Sorn


Subsequently, the noodle makers place the flour in boiling water for 45 minutes. One pot can only fit four blocks of flour at a time. Photo by: Ena Im


After boiling, the noodle makers take the flour out of the pot and mix the flour again by using a machine. This is because the outer part might be more cooked than the inside, so the flour needs to be mixed to make sure all parts are evenly cooked. Photo by: Ena Im


After the machine mixes the flour, it is cut into pieces and shaped into a block again.                                Photo by: Chan Reaksmey Sor.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
When the noodle makers finish making the flour into a block, they take it and put it in the Khmer rice noodle press. It fits 5 kg of flour at a time. Photo by: Leza Sorn


Afterward, they place the Khmer rice noodle press that contains the flour on a piece of wood and use a lever to push the flour through the press. To do this, they have to sit on the lever as the flour is turned into coils of Khmer rice noodle. Photo by: Ena Im


After the noodle is cooked for three minutes, the Khmer noodle makers take it out of the boiling water place it in cool water. and The noodles must be cooled quickly to keep their texture, or they will become too soft and therefore not tasty at all. Photo by: Ena Im
Finally, the Khmer Rice noodle is shaped and placed on lotus leaves, which prevents the noodles from sticking to the basket underneath. At bottom of the lotus leaf, a small hole is left for the water to drain from the noodles. Photo by: Cindy Liu


This family-run workshop makes 500 Kilograms of Khmer Noodle every day. Photo by: Ena Im                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
“Being a Khmer rice noodle maker is not easy. I have to wake up early in the morning at 3:00 am.  I usually hurt my arm because I use it a lot, my clothes are splashed with white flour water every day and I don’t have that much time to spend with my family because I have to get out of my house from 3:00 am and I don’t come back until 2:30 pm. However, I have to do it because I want to keep the tradition alive.”      Photo by: Ena Im


“I know that doing this doesn’t make a lot of money, but this is the only work that I love to do and I am good at it. I have to wake up at 3:00 am, and I have to use my hand a lot, but I still want to do it because I want to keep this Khmer rice noodle alive forever. Keeping traditional food like the Khmer rice noodle alive is like keeping our country alive”. Photo by: Sakseth



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