Cambodia: Customs and Lifestyle
Diet and Eating
Soup and rice are the main components of the Cambodian diet. A bowl of soup may have any combination of fish, eggs, vegetables, meat, and spices. More than 20 years ago, Cambodia was known as “the cradle of rice”, and many different varieties were grown in the various regions. Today, Cambodia is less productive, and fewer varieties are grown. Rice is prepared in many ways and is eaten at every meal. Vegetables and a wide variety of fruit are available throughout the year. Seafood and fish are also common.
Cambodians eat with chopsticks, spoons, or their fingers, depending on the food and family custom. Food that has been influenced by Indian, Chinese, and European cuisine is also enjoyed. In general, Cambodian food is less spicy than in neighbouring countries such as Thailand.
Most of Cambodia’s recreational facilities were destroyed or fell into disrepair during the late 1970s and the 1980s. Today, however, the people enjoy football, table tennis, volleyball, and badminton. They also dance, play music, and sing. Video cassette recorders (VCRs) are becoming more accessible and are used to create small village cinemas. Other leisure activities include picnics, card playing, and Sunday rides on bicycles or motorcycles. Festivals and weddings provide other recreational high points.
Among friends and relatives, visiting is frequent and usually unannounced. People remove their shoes when entering a home or wat (a temple for worship and religious education). A houseguest may be greeted with a bouquet of jasmine flowers placed on his or her desk or table. In general, Cambodians are extremely hospitable, although they may be cautious about inviting strangers into the home. If a meal is provided, guests are given the best place to sit and the best portion of food.
Holidays and Celebrations
Cambodia’s national holidays include Liberation Day (7 January), Victory Over American Imperialism Day (17 April), and The Front Day (2 December). Both the Chinese and Buddhist new years are celebrated. The Buddhist New Year is in April and is celebrated for three days.
Vassa, the Buddhist Rains Retreat, is the period when monks halt their usual peregrinations during the monsoons and stay inside to meditate and pray. It is also known as the Buddhist Lent. During these months, restraint and abstinence must prevail. During this time, weddings are not held as a rule and moving house is avoided.
In the last week of September, near the end of the rainy season, an important Buddhist festival, Pchum Ben, takes place. It is a celebration on behalf of the dead and for one’s own salvation. Before it begins, people are supposed to accomplish a seven-wat duty to please their ancestors. This involves worshipping at seven wat or performing seven moral good deeds (or a combination of both). Six weeks after Pchum Ben, large or wealthy families raise money to pay for the living expenses of the monks.
The Festival of the Reversing Current, which occurs between late October and late November, celebrates the return to normal direction of a river that reverses its current during the rainy season. When the flow of the river, the Tônlé Sab, returns to its original direction, fireworks, canoe racing, and general merrymaking erupt in Phnom Penh.
Funerals are also an occasion for gathering. White clothes are worn to funerals, and music is an integral part of the event.