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Defining Food – Lok Lak

26 May

When I told my father that I was going to be traveling to Cambodia he said, “Really? Cambodia? You know, we weren’t really nice to them. We bombed them, you know? Are you sure?”

Yes, I went on a Holiday in Cambodia.


Quick, what’s your favorite Cambodian dish?

What’s that you say? You’re asking me what IS a Cambodian dish?

Well, before we get to that, there are some things you should know about Cambodia. (Don’t worry, the history lesson will be brief and vauge. If you want to learn more, you can do your homework.) First, Geography. Cambodia is surrounded by the nations of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. The history of these places impacts the history of Cambodia. Back in the day, Jayavarman II, started the Khmer Empire that lasted from 802 C.E. to the mid 1400 C.E. The Khmer people are probably most well known for the building of Angkor Wat. The French then rolled into town around the 1800’s when colonization was all the rage. They stuck around until 1953, when Cambodia gained independence. The Vietnam War impacted Cambodia in many ways which gave rise to the Khmer Rouge (which is a whole other story), who were in power until the nation was reunited under a monarchy in 1993.

Cambodia has been through a lot. It is still recovering from the effects of much of it’s history – all of which can be reflected in its food. There is one dish that stands out to me as clearly Cambodian – Lok Lak.


Looking at it, you wouldn’t think that it is anything special, just some stir fried beef; but I have to tell you it is one flavorful dish. The basic ingredients in the marinade are oyster sauce, garlic, chili oil, and ketchup (yes, ketchup). The beef sits in this marinate 20 minutes or so and then it stir fried in a wok. It is served with white rice, a side of sliced tomato and cucumbers and a lime juice with salt and pepper sauce. (The sauce is where it’s at. Seriously.) So simple and so good.

[Side Bar – I learn more and more about food, simple seems to be the way to go. I’ve traveled to India and parts of South East Asia. Some say I have a thing for Third World Travel. And I guess I do, but it’s just reinforced by the fact that simple is good. When resources are low, people really do the best with what they have. I have seen poverty in my travels, but I have had some really great food. More on this in a future post.]

When I think of Cambodia, I think of Lok Lak. Not only because it was on nearly every menu (along with fish amok) that we saw, but because to me it IS Cambodia. Upon first glance, Lok Lak doesn’t seem like it has much going for it, but once tasted, the flavor is comforting with just a hint of spice. Just like Cambodia. At first, it doesn’t seem like it has much to offer. I would recommend Cambodia to anyone traveling in South East Asia. The people are warm and comforting. The sights are breathtaking. And you don’t want to miss a ride on a bamboo train! The travel industry is just picking up and will be going crazy in no time. I would love to go back and explore more of the former Khmer Empire. There was so much that I didn’t see. The bottom line is, Cambodia makes an impression.

I’ve made Lok Lak at least seven times since returning. Most of those were within the first week back in the The States. It made an impression as well.


If you would like to learn how to make Lok Lak, please “like” the One World, One Plate Facebook page and you will find a recipe there – it’s really easy to make!.


Defining Food – Deep Dish Pizza

17 Feb

Defining Food is a feature on One World, One Plate that looks at a place and the food that defines it. In other news, if you “like” this page on facebook, you will get access to recipes of foods mentioned in this section (or sometimes just a recipe I want to share)!

Pizza. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that doesn’t like pizza. It’s a food loved by millions. Pizza has become as much of an American food as it is Italian. Kids like it. Adults like it. You can’t go wrong. One of the reasons why pizza is so beloved is it’s versatility. Thick crust, thin crust, deep dish, stuffed crust, double dough, not to mention the unlimited number of ingredients. There are infinite combinations!

Here in Chicago, we make our pizza a little differently. We like it deep dish. Some people say that deep dish pizza is not pizza at all. If you are one of those people, I ask you to open your mind for the reminder of this post. Deep dish pizza is the same concept, just done a different way. For example, the ice cream in a cone tastes the same as the ice cream in a dish, right? Stick with me and you will find that there is room for all types of pizza in stomachs around the world.


What makes deep dish pizza different? For starters, it is more like pie than what most people would think of as a pizza. Instead of having a light flour crust that is thrown through the air, deep dish crust is made of olive oil and cornmeal and covers the inside of a deep round pan. Then it is put in the oven and parbaked before the ingredients are loaded in. This allows the crust to be a bit crispy, almost like it’s fried. To me, the crust is an essential part of the pizza. If you have a bad crust, it can change the whole ballgame. Baking the crust first, allows it to support the ingredients later. Next, a layer of cheese is put down before the other ingredients fill up the pan. When it comes to choosing a meat to put on deep dish pizza – sausage is king. Pepperoni seems to get lost in the pool of cheese. Veggies are good, but you have to have a lot of them to make the pizza anything more than a cheese pie. Spinach usually works well for that purpose. Finally, the pizza is topped with tomato sauce and put back in the oven to bake until nice and warm. It’s perfect if the cheese is bubbling up through the layer of sauce.

Once the pizza is out, it’s time to eat – with a fork and knife. (I can hear New Yorkers crying “sacrilegious” as I type this.) I told you at the beginning, deep dish is a little different. This pizza is an experience. It’s heavy as a brick when it comes to your table. That doesn’t stop us from eating it. It’s worth every calorie. A fork helps.

Deep Dish Pizza is a reflection of the town it’s made in; the city of broad shoulders. Chicagoans are tough, no-nonscense people. We have to be to both put up with and form our corrupt city government. Eating thin crust pizza all the time wouldn’t mesh well with our cultural identity. Think about it. Al Capone eating a pizza he folds in half or eating a pizza that if he threw it, could leave a dent in your car? (Just kidding, it’s not that heavy!) This is a pizza that can’t be eaten on the go. You have to stop and sit down to eat it. Chicago is a major city and is always moving, but we will always stop for good food.

Fun Fact – Chicagoans are both attached to and proud of their deep dish pizza. Many restaurants here offer shipping of their pizza to anywhere in the United States. This means that when people move away they can still get their Lou Malnati’s fix. For those of us still in the city, we can send it to friends around the country who don’t believe it until they taste it.