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Urban Brokers of Rural Cuisine: Food Literacy at Cambodian Soup-Pot Restaurants


Unlike restaurants that prepare food on-demand, pre-prepared food venues (or soup-pot restaurants) in Cambodia and other Asian countries make their decisions about what to cook in a more complicated food-society nexus, factoring in their culinary skill, seasonality of ingredients, and diners’ expectations for variety. As such, soup-pot restaurants exist as tenuous brokers between rural food customs and modern expectations of city dwellers. For urban migrants, these familiar locales are an invaluable resource in overcoming the economic and social challenges of transitioning to the city.

For long-time urban dwellers, they are a transparent window into the agricultural and market cycles that they encounter less in the city, as well as an opportunity to re-acquaint with national cuisine. Fulfilling the expectations of rural and urban patrons, however, requires carefully crafting an experience that balances the agricultural and social dynamics of rural eating customs with city comforts. Under good management, soup-pot restaurants can accomplish this while also serving as a space of dietary learning, providing meals that are culturally understood to be balanced and nutritious, while exposing children and adults to culinary diversity. As a site of research, these restaurants can be seen as potential innovators for managing the consequences of industrialization on food and agriculture.
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