About Slow Noodles
SLOW NOODLES: Recipes for Rebuilding a Lost Civilization
SLOW NOODLES is a Cambodian survivor's memoir of food, longing, and recovered recipes. (Release date TBA)
The title, "Slow Noodles," is an expression of Chantha’s personal philosophy in the kitchen and in life: The best dishes require extra time and love to prepare, and rebuilding a society after genocide takes generations of investment—no quick fixes.
Chantha's childhood kitchen in 1960s Battambang was a wonderland of flavors, from Khmer village fare to sumptuous French dishes. Her mother prepared meals the old-school way, grinding rice to make rice flour and cooking over a charcoal fire. To her, slower was better, and she despised the flavor of short cuts.
Chantha carries that legacy forward in her own kitchen, and has passed on those family recipes to her daughter Clara. In writing this book, she aims to pass them on to a new generation of Cambodians, thereby reviving a style of Khmer home cooking that was nearly lost to decades of war and genocide.
That "slow noodles" philosophy also extends to Chantha's life's work as a social entrepreneur. In the 1990s, as Cambodia struggled to rise from the ashes of genocide, Chantha saw how billions in international aid were often wasted on band-aid solutions that did little to help traumatized survivors relearn self-sufficiency. She co-founded the Stung Treng Women's Development Center, a nonprofit silk-weaving center, to help impoverished families along the long, difficult path toward economic self-reliance.
"I have been through poverty and back out again," she writes. "I know how to show other women how it’s done. And that has become my life’s work."
About Chantha Nguon
Author. Social entrepreneur. Khmer cooking expert.
Survivor & Social Entrepreneur
In 1970, nine-year-old Chantha Nguon fled Cambodia, leaving behind a happy childhood, spent mostly in her mother’s kitchen. As her homeland plunged into the darkness of Pol Pot’s “Year Zero,” Chantha and her mother and sister resettled in war-torn Saigon and used their culinary artistry to eke out nourishing meals from garbage rations.
By age 24, Chantha was alone in the world, with no family or savings. She spent ten hungry years in squalid Thai refugee camps, hoping to begin a new life in America. When that hope died, she went home to Cambodia and rebuilt a life amidst the ruins—in part, by resurrecting her mother's recipes.
SLOW NOODLES is Chantha's upcoming memoir of losing everything and fighting to get it back, a reflection on strength and survival, and a love-letter to the mother who gave her the recipes for both.
A Social Enterprise in Stung Treng, Cambodia
In 2001, Chantha and her husband Chan created a successful social enterprise for women in remote Stung Treng province. At the Stung Treng Women’s Development Center, women weave shimmering “Mekong Blue” silk scarves on hand-built looms, bring their children to an on-site kindergarten, and make a living wage.
Having made her own way out of poverty, Chantha has found happiness and purpose in lighting the path for others.
Click here to learn more about Mekong Blue silk and the social services at SWDC.
Images from Mekong Blue & SWDC
In a remote Cambodian village, women learn to weave exquisite silk scarves and new lives of economic independence.
Stung Treng Women's Development Center:
A day in the life of a Cambodian social enterprise
Interview with Chantha Nguon:
The SWDC co-founder, on finding a life's work by offering women a way out of poverty
Khmer Cooking with Chantha
Last summer in Nashville, Chantha shared her mother's sumptuous recipes in a series of cooking classes, featuring traditional soups and curries, spring rolls, and sticky rice desserts. It was a great success! We hosted around 100 eaters in a dozen delicious sessions.
We'll do it again soon. And when the book comes out, we'll take the Slow Noodles Tour on the road. Contact us if you'd like to help host us in your city! We'd love to cook with you, wherever you are.
Thanks to everyone who joined us last summer! If you'd like to receive news about future classes and the memoir in progress, sign up for our mailing list in the form below.
Meanwhile, see the highlights reel below (and follow us on Instagram @SlowNoodles for more):
An introduction to Khmer cuisine
What is Khmer cooking like?
Cambodian food resembles the cuisines of Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, but with a few defining tastes that set it apart—including sour-tasting soups with tamarind or lime, and prahok, our (in)famous fermented fish paste.
Can I find the ingredients?
Although some supplies might play hard to get, most U.S. cities have specialty markets that carry things like rice paper wrappers, lemongrass, Thai basil, glutinous rice, tamarind, coconut milk, palm sugar, and a wide variety of noodles. And most of the ingredients—such as pork, rice, eggs, shallots, garlic, or fish—are available in any grocery.
Will I like it?
Although some Khmer dishes (such as prahok) may require a sense of adventure, others will prove as tasty, comforting, and familiar as your family's cooking—dishes like Khmer-style barbecue, beef lok lak, clear chicken soups, and fried shrimp rolls are excellent entry points for people new to the cuisines of Southeast Asia.
In short, you will LOVE it.
Starring Chantha and Clara
Fried Spring Rolls
Prepared on a Khmer-style charcoal grill in her Phnom Penh courtyard
A delicious egg noodle stir-fry with chicken and bok choy
Bobor Sam Jok
A favorite Khmer comfort food: rice porridge with pork
Lemongrass Fried Tofu
An easy way to make tofu exciting and tasty
A Southeast Asian take on the classic crème caramel
Chantha & Clara
A Khmer coconut/rice pancake and popular street food
Beef & Jiacama Spring Rolls
Chantha & Clara
Fresh rolls 2 ways—for vegetarians and meat lovers
The how and why of cooking Vietnamese crepes. Hint: It's about togetherness.
Press for Slow Noodles & Mekong Blue
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