red, sticky, boiled, fried, soaked

No, not a description of me – although it comes pretty close at times over here – it’s an indication of some of the myriad types of rice to be found in Cambodia.

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I’ve become a bit of a rice expert over the past four weeks, and I now know that the average Cambodian eats between 500g and 1kg of rice per day, depending on their size, and a family of five adults gets through 1.5 tonnes a year.

They eat rice for all three meals a day, and sometimes snack on rice between meals too.  Cambodian rice is of excellent quality and grown without pesticides; Thailand imports Cambodian rice to eat, while exporting its own rice to Europe.

There are rice paddies everywhere in the countryside around Siem Reap, making everything a beautiful, vibrant green, and this is now the season for transplanting the rice from the nursery to the main fields so people are out in force tending their crops.

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These farmers are pulling the young rice out of the water by the roots.  They then bundle it up

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and cut the tops off.

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Then he takes it to the main paddy field, while she takes the trimmings off to be recycled.

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They plant out the young rice plants in the traditional way; you push your thumb into the mud and then put three plants into each thumb hole, spacing them apart to leave room for growth.

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This crop will be ready for harvesting in about another four months.

As the temperature is pretty constant here, it’s water supply that determines how many rice crops farmers can grow each year.  In the countryside away from the river, they can only grow one crop, during the rainy season.  Near the river, they can grow two crops a year, and if you’re lucky enough to have land near Tonle Sap Lake, you can grow three crops a year.  And 85% of Cambodians are farmers, so that adds up to an awful lot of rice.

Eating rice is such a fundamental part of life here that there are five different verbs meaning ‘to eat rice’ and it depends on who you are talking to, as to which one you use.

  • To speak to a child, you use the word ‘see’ (don’t know how it’s spelt, but that is the pronunciation).
  • For young adults the verb is ‘nyam’.
  • To speak to an older person you must use ‘pisar’.
  • To speak to a monk, it is ‘chan’.
  • And in the unlikely event that you are ever speaking to the King about his rice-eating habits, the verb is ‘soy’.

Reflecting on this, the closest parallel I can come up with in England is alcohol.  Young people are unlikely to say to each other ‘would you care for an aperitif?’  And it would be considered highly inappropriate to say to the Queen, ‘get that down your neck, Ma’am’.  Different cultures, different priorities.

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