Written by Sophinarath Cheang, VoiceWaves Youth Journalist.
Street food in Cambodia. Photo courtesy of Sophinarath Cheang.
I am walking down Anaheim Street and a delightful aroma fills the air. I follow it into a normally open space that is now filled with many booths, vendors, and food trucks. I walk through the aisles and, surprised, I utter, “Street food!” Here I am, in the heart of central Long Beach, and I can’t believe my eyes. There are so many tantalizing smells, colors, and textures reflecting the rich culinary diversity of our community. I sit down and order a bowl of nom banhjok (just one type of Cambodian noodle soup) from Aunty Sarem. I tell her that I need all kinds of fresh vegetables with my meal. She smiles at me and delivers.
That was my dream last night. Now awake, I still feel its lure. Imagine this: what if we have a street food section in our community? In an empty lot, close to schools, near the beaches, along the alleys in our neighborhood, wouldn’t it be wonderful?
Born and raised in Cambodia, I grew up loving the street food along the alleys of my house and around the bustling riverfront of Phnom Penh. I loved the taste, loved the cheap prices, and loved the environment that allowed me to relax, bond with friends, and enjoy my food.
So what’s street food? Unlike restaurants, street food is set up in a public area. Sometimes this means a stall on the side of the road; sometimes it means in an open lot. Street food is rich in culture, convenient, economical, and delicious. In my native Cambodia, it can range in everything from noodles to papaya salad, beef skewers to deep fried tarantulas!
Having been here for almost four years, I feel like Long Beach is becoming my second home. Long Beach has the biggest concentration of Cambodian people outside of the motherland and there are plenty of places where I can find Cambodian cuisine. Yet, I am missing the charm and convenience of street food.
Adding to Cambodian foods that I used to eat, what if we have an area of street food that is comprised of many different foods from different ethnicities such as Vietnamese, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Colombian, American, Hawaiian, Filipino, Italian, Persian, and so on. This would certainly create a livelier community that would attract tourists, a place where people can come and enjoy the healthy, freshly cooked food in an informal environment. Perhaps we can make our community the go-to spot for trying the flavors of our world.
However, let’s consider thoroughly the facts about street food. Street food is almost like a homemade food. Street food vendors are either individually-owned or family-owned. Therefore, the recipe is unique. Rather than giving our money to the big corporations, consuming street food supports our local businesses—supports our neighbors.
Now you are probably worried that street food could be unhealthy. But just think: you can see the quality of the ingredients and see how the chefs handle your food. You can actually see how your food is cooked and you can judge if it is cooked properly or not. On top of this, street food is freshly cooked, baked, or boiled, unlike fast foods that are often frozen, microwaved, or deep-fried.
It would literally be a dream come true if this happens. And, if so, I can’t wait to try all the fare. It would be so nice if I can hear people talk about Long Beach, hear them rave about its diverse array of food and the accessible spaces for people to converge with one another in their experience of it. Wouldn’t our Long Beach be different place? Perhaps friendlier? Perhaps more tolerant? More healthy? Can you imagine?
For more images of street food in Cambodia: