wander process


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The Pungent Taste of Colonialism

I mentioned in my previous post that I gave myself a generous amount of time to wander around Phnom Penh and explore the food scene there. I found myself returning multiple times to The Blue Pumpkin, a restaurant I was already familiar with.

If you’re looking for classy ice cream or baked goods in Cambodia and you’re in either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, look no further than The Blue Pumpkin. I remember gleefully slurping kaffir lime and lemon sorbet in Siem Reap long before my love of food blossomed. I was lucky to come across The Blue Pumpkin in Phnom Penh when I was walking around one night.

I think I returned two or three more times for their ice cream. I’d pick up a macaron to nibble on while reading Bel Canto. I popped in for breakfast one morning for iced coffee and ficelle with real butter and jam (can you imagine my delight?).

I hadn’t paid too, too much attention to the baked goods because I mostly just wanted baguettes and ice cream. That sounds like an acceptable diet to me. When I had breakfast at the Blue Pumpkin before I went to Kampot for a few days, my eyes lingered over the bakery display.

I found something that could be considered either entirely offensive or wholly delightful, depending on your tastes.

I had to buy it. It’s a snack before a 5 hour bus journey, I told myself.

I pulled the box out as I settled outside my hotel to wait for the bus.

Sacre bleu! A durian eclair!

Durian is widely recognized as the most polarizing fruit, and one the most polarizing foods in the world. The fruit looks like a styrofoamy chicken breast and some believe it smells like rotting flesh and dirty diapers. I’m not selling it, obviously, but I like the stuff.

While it’s interesting enough that baguettes are so widely available in Vietnam, Lao, and Cambodia, it’s another thing entirely to such a culinary fusion between colonizer and colonized. I had never seen a food quite like this before, and it was done well.

I love learning about the intersection of food and colonialism. It’s one of the tangible, edible ways to see the extent of change colonialism exerts on a society, and often, it’s one of the things that stays around and becomes incorporated into a colonized culture once colonizers had left.

This durian eclair – was it wrong? Was it problematic? I don’t know. There’s a lot of judgement and analysis that can go into eating a durian-flavored eclair in Phnom Penh. There’s a lot of thought that happens during the process of eating. The balancing of processing the light but still characteristically pungent durian cream filling, the delicious icing on top, the excellent pastry, with wondering about the thought processes of whoever thought to combine these two things together – Cambodia’s durians with France’s pastries.

But you know what?

It tasted good.