In Khmer language, the verb “to eat,” yam bai, literally translates as “eat rice.” Klean bai, which is how you say you are hungry, literally translates as “hunger for rice.” Rice is the staple accompaniment of every meal in Cambodia, and a driving force behind the economy. The grain is an accompaniment to a variety of meats—mostly fish from the abundant Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers—usually spiced with some combination of lemongrass, soy, and ginger. Popular dishes like amok (fish curry) and salam machu (sweet-and-sour fish soup) employ simply prepared ingredients and bright, fresh flavors to produce some of the most delicious, healthy—yet relatively unknown—peasant food the world over.

Richard Parks, writing in the Summer 2012 issue of Lucky Peach about “Khmerican food”—the fused cuisines of America and Cambodia. His piece finds an unlikely subject as its driving force: doughnuts, specifically Cambodian-owned California doughnut shops. A recent count found that 90 percent of all independent doughnut shops in California are owned by Cambodians.

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