The Great Cambodian Experiment: II
A farm worker handed me the frying pan they had just finished cooking their lunch in. I could barely greet somebody properly in Thai, so through sign language I tried to explain that I couldn’t cook in the same pot without washing it first.
When I was younger, at a time when I didn’t care much for anything religious, I met up with a Bourdain-inspired friend who was working as a chef in a five star hotel. The hotel had recently hosted a reception organized by Jews, with a lot of food on the menu. ‘They came in, started washing all our pots, man. It was crazy. Praying over everything, or something. We just stood around waiting to get back to work.’ I laughed with him all the while.
I’m not quite ‘praying over everything,’ but now (years later) I am asking chefs all over to please use a new pot or to wash the one they’ve been using. In Thailand, some understand that ‘the Islam food’ means no pig. That helps a bit because everything in Thailand seems to be laced with some kind of pork derivative.
Back then you wouldn’t have been able to convince me that those Jewish ladies were not a bit on the weird side with their determination to make that kitchen crew’s pots, pans an cutlery all spick and span… to make it kosher.
So, when I sense that now I’m the one being looked as one of those weird Jewish ladies, the only way to relate the experience is to explain that a good dose of absurd self-imposed constraints sure makes for some cool movie scenes. Like the situations you find yourself in trying to catch the daily prayers as a Muslim: bending and bowing next to airport security when the boarding gate’s about to close; causing a scene because you’re chanting things in a strange language in some fashion store’s fitting room; cutting negotiations short at the Cambodian customs port to wash your face and align cut up cardboard boxes 288 degrees from north… while border patrol tries to figure out what on earth these guys are doing and why they’re not getting paid yet.