Cambodian New Year
Cambodians, along with neighboring countries Laos and Thailand, follow the Buddhist calendar; last April they feted the year 2560 with a three-day New Year’s celebration. To honor the occasion, temples and homes were decorated with lights and an offering table consisting of banana leaves, fruit, candles and incense should be placed outside for the gods. Families gathered to drink, eat and dance.
Cambodian (Khmer) New Year is celebrated by roughly 5,000 Cambodians in Jacksonville. Two local temples, (known as wats in Khmer), serve as places of worship and hold regular festivities to keep the culture and traditions of home alive. We were able to participate in a recent celebration as guests of Top Chan at Wat Kanteyaram. This hidden beauty on the Westside has an interesting side story: A former Cambodian resident of Jacksonville won the lottery and donated $2.3 million to help build the wat. Every element of the temple was brought in piece by piece from Cambodia, including the two-ton Buddha. “We want to let the community know about our culture both as a way to educate as well as to help keep it vibrant in the area,” said Chan.
The holiday calls for a generous feast. Most dishes use kroeung, a spice and herb paste similar to a Thai curry paste, as a base, though generally Cambodian cuisine is not very spicy. Kroeung is used to make the classic dish amok. Fish amok steamed in banana leaf is widely cooked for holidays and is a well-known Cambodian dish. The holiday meal is served family style, and almost always includes a soup, spring rolls, fried rice, barbecue and sticky sweet rice with mango for dessert.
Condiments are equally important. Two common sauces include a combination of fish sauce, chopped chilies, shallots, garlic and palm sugar, or a make-it-yourself mix of black pepper, salt and lime juice.