Leçon de cuisine : cuisson à la vapeur à la cambodgienne – Cambodian Steaming Cooking Class

If going to stay up late on a Friday night, there are just a few things that can persuade me to get up early: going for a long hike at the top of a mountain, or fly to a nice destination -but this is fading away a bit as I came to realize that I can no longer *stand* very early flights when you have to get up in the middle of the night (except if I am going to Patagonia or New Zealand or South Africa or…). Getting up at 4 am for a flight makes me so grumpy then that I scare myself hearing my incomprehensible franglais and believe I can communicate with it (this is the nice part, the less attractive one is how grumpy I really am). In this list that can make me get up, there is *food*.

Last Saturday could have been a very plain lazy morning with a long sleep in. We went to bed late on Friday night. But the following morning, I was very excited to get up and get ready. I was going to attend my first cooking class.

Why did I wait so long for this to happen? No idea really! I decided to attend the steaming class taught by Chef Nyep de Monteiro from the Elephant Walk in Cambridge and Waltham. For those who do not know this Bostonian restaurant, the cuisine is French and Cambodian as the 2 married chefs, Nasda de Monteiro and Gérard from Béziers are respectively Cambodian and French.

General feeling

The class was fun, the food was great, the company was nice and I learned tons of little things and tricks about this fascinating Cambodian cuisine (including steamed rice with this wonderful coconut flavor! So proud to have the know-how-to secret now!)

The cooking class

Nyep taught the class in her *big* home and let me tell you, lovely house but it was cold inside this big house. I thought I was the only one feeling this way- “Was I a wimp?” I thought. Was it the wrong place? Wrong country? Aren’t American houses usually nice and toasty? This is not England after all. I still remembered a kiwi friend of mine telling me that while in England or New Zealand, you would very quickly develop the habit to keep your jacket on while inside. While in New Zealand, I verified the legend. It is true! In winter, you can get very cold while inside! But back to my original story, about how cold this particular house was, I was soon delighted to see that we *all* felt this way. Instinctly, we stuck together, glued close to the stove that produced big waves of steam. A good thing for a steaming class!

Nyep is an assertive woman with a great sense of humour. I liked her right away. She started by explaining the ingredients we were going to use, pointing carefully at each, letting us touch and smell, and after we got a sense of what they all were (’cause you see, unless you speak an Asian language like Chinese, you have no clue what on earth you are using since everything is usually written in any given Asian language!), then she demonstrated the recipes we then realized in small groups. We prepared fish, chicken, tofu, root vegetable and dessert. I felt I was going to be part of Le Festin de Babette. And I was Babette…..

Nothing was missing, and above all, everything was steamed. All of the dishes we were going to cook required steaming, hence on Nyep’s stove, there were many lined-up tall steamers!

I particularly enjoyed hearing Nyep talk about Cambodia and the cooking and eating traditions, hear her mention what she had learned from her dad, such as where to get the best fish sauce. For the record, according to her dad, the best quality fish sauce had to come from a region called Phu quoc in Vietnam. She added that unfortunately, any fish sauce bought today in the USA with the mention Phu quoc on the bottle was deceiving: this particular fish sauce comes from Thailand. “No good!” she added.

Back to the basics

Where to find the best fish sauce, where to shop for Asian ingredients in Boston, all those things were covered and I left the class with one urging desire: I wanted to rush right away to the Chinese market to get all of those ingredients that I would otherwise never use. I had to keep in mind though, as Nyep herself told us, that my Asian shopping trip could still be a somewhat challenging experience! Her personal last experience at the Asian market in Revere had turned out to a situation like this one: she approached the fish section and asked “what fish is this?” “Fish”! “What vegetable is that? “Vegetable!” Nevertheless, I could now confidently make my way to the Asian market to buy dried lilies, mushroom soy sauce, bean thread noodles, pickled mustard greens, pickled scallions, yuca, black fungus. Those weird creatures would now be in my kitchen and I would know what to do with them. Victoire!

What we cooked

  • Steamed fish with Lilies – Tery Chamhoy
  • Steamed Chicken – Mouan Chamhoy
  • Steamed Yuca with Coconut Dipping Sauce – Dom Lung Cheah
  • Coconut Milk Custard – Sanghia
  • Steamed Tofu with Shiitake Mushroom and Baby Bok Choy

What I learned

  • Coconut steamed rice secret
  • Any leftover dish with coconut milk should not “fully” be covered tight in the fridge as the dish needs to breathe. Coconut milk goes bad very quickly
  • How to prepare lilies to be eaten : remove the stamen and how to tie them
  • How to clean black fungus and what to do with it
  • How to serve yuca (and eat it, I think I could easily have this as my favorite snack food)
  • How to handle big large three-tier steamers
  • How to make coconut custard miam!

The pictures show you the preparation, the kitchen, our table and the dishes we cooked.



The table

Steamed chicken

Steamed Fish

Steamed tofu

I came home *so* relaxed and happy. P. could not have me stop talk talk talk. An endless lengthy stream of words. I had so much to tell him about the class and about…what I was going to buy, my tall steamer, the steaming baskets, the fish sauce supplies! “Stop!” he said. “Arrête, et où comptes-tu mettre tout cela ?” (And where do you plan to put all of this? We do not need more…) “Moi, ben pourquoi ?” (Me, why?) Really, you will agree with me, who cares!

There was food everywhere shining in my eyes and through my entire body. Well, that is a bit of a stretch but well, to make it short, I just enjoyed my class a lot and recommend it to everyone. I now have a better clue about Cambodian cuisine. Any question feel free to ask. I might be willing to share some of those secrets! 😉

Posted in General, Meat


  1. EXcellent! I took coking classes last year and you are tickling me with the envy of taking new ones!

  2. Oh my god! Ahhhhhhhhh! (this is suppose to be an attempt at trying to sound excited and anguished at the same time). A cambodian cooking class!?! Fantastic post with even more fantastic photos to boot. Cambodian cuisine is something that I never took the time to learn much about.

    I also enjoyed reading the previous 2 posts. The one about the bread where you wrote….If I still lived in France, there would not be a good reason -maybe- for this post. SO TRUE when in France. My husband and I actually wake up early so we can go around looking for fresh bread and when we see a shop, it’s nothing but “Boulangerie! Boulangerie! Look! Over there!”

    Hilarious, but hey, with french bakers being such experts at making thee best bread around, we just can’t help it. 😉

  3. Thanks Rowena, ahahah, I know, bakeries, aren’t they incredible? When my hubbie first got to Francem just by looking at the displays he wanted to eat everything!!

  4. Ivonne, thanks a lot. Sweet of you to think about me!

    Flo, yes go for the classes! Mine was a lot of fun!! And I am planning to attend more!

  5. Interesting, I would’ve never guessed Yuca is eaten in Cambodia – I thought it was primarily in Latin America.

  6. argh, i’m so envious! i wanted to take nyep’s class when we were in boston last year, but the timing wasn’t right:( — i have her cookbook and had tried a couple of her recipes for my asian cuisine blog!

  7. This is so neat, very jealous of your chance to take this class! Thanks for hsaring it (am very glad to have found you rblog, its very nice)

    I come from Colombia, South America and we make yuca in several ways, one way is boiled like you show here (tho with saffron in the boil water).

    We also deep fry them (I prefer this way, I save the boiled ones for soups like sancocho).

    See how to make them here: http://nikas-culinaria.blogspot.com/2005/12/deep-fried-yucas-cassava-root.html

  8. Thanks for your note Nika and for the new tip on how to make yuca! I will definitely try them! This root vegetable is really tasty!

  9. Just found your blog, love it! So, what’s the ‘secret’ to the addictive coconut rice? The class sounds like so much fun, thanks for sharing.

  10. It sound cool with your class!!! i do wanna join this class but my main purpose is baking class. i tried to search alot about baking in Cambodai, but i can not find one yet 🙁 Anyways i do appreciate your cooking:)