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After their first pop-up together sold out in three days, Chef Pannah’s Pannah Son and Lariza Amon of Lariza’s bakery hoped that their dream of opening a Cambodian and Filipino restaurant would come true. The January 31st popup is the first in a series of Sunday meals the two are selling in advance on Instagram and cooked for pickup every last Sunday of the month.
Her concept highlights both Cambodian and Filipino cuisines without blending them together and experiments with modern traditional dishes. The important part, says Son, is, “If you bite into it [the food]It still tastes like mom’s kitchen. “
Amon and Son met while working at the Vinh Xuong Bakery and bonded through similar visions of restaurants where they could share the cuisines of their cultures. Son’s family is Cambodian and Amon’s family is Filipino. As they grew up, both of them noticed their culture’s lack of restaurants on the Denver food scene. “It’s not like LA or New York City,” notes Son, “but it gets there. I’ve seen a huge difference in the past few years. “
Son says she has always wanted to cook Cambodian food in honor of her family and heritage, and make her parents proud. Her parents survived the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979, during which time they went to the Thai border, where they lived in refugee camps for ten years. She is the only one of her three siblings who was born in the United States. “They call me the American because I was lucky enough to be born here,” she says. “My dream is to have my own restaurant, to be my own boss.”
Cambodian food has a distinct flavor profile that is inspired by the country’s natural resources. “Our food is mostly based on fermented fish,” explains Son. A small carp known as Trey Riel in Khmer is caught in large quantities during the rainy season. The fish are then filleted, salted and ripened until they turn into prahok, a fermented fish paste that gives many meals a hearty flavor – similar to shiitake mushrooms. Kreung, a blend of spices made primarily of lemongrass but also includes galangal, garlic, and kaffir lime leaves, is another widely used flavor.
Sohn enjoys creating modern expressions of traditional Khmer cuisine. Here is her take on Cha Kuy Teav.
On January 31st, Son makes wings glazed with fish sauce, a typical Cambodian dish. But instead of the traditional side dishes of jasmine rice and jrouk (pickled daikon and carrot), she combines the wings with garlic noodles. They’ve been very popular lately, she explains, and they add a new twist.
The Pandan cookies included in the Meal Deal are made by Amon, and the recipe she and Son created was inspired by pandan leaves used in both Cambodian and Filipino cuisines. The baked goodies are a type of crinkle biscuit, a popular dessert in the Philippines. Amon started making her own crinkle cookies last May at the suggestion of her brother, who asked her if she could learn to bake them with eube (purple yams).
Their ube Crinkle Cookies are made with Halaya, a Filipino jam made from the ube root. It tastes similar to sweet potatoes, Amon says, and it’s usually made with other desserts like shaved ice with sweet beans and coconut shavings during the holiday season. Your family makes their own halaya. When she paired this jam with the cookies, her brother and friends encouraged her to start a business. Amon sold 1,000 cookies on her first sale.
She has now expanded Lariza’s bakery to specialize in both ice cube and chocolate crinkle cookies, as well as chocolate chip cookies, tiger butter (swirling chocolate peanut butter fudge) and Lumpia, a Filipino spring roll. “My family’s recipe is really good, and I think others should try it too,” she explains of having an aunt who is Lumpia’s main cook at the bakery. Her aunt and other family members often help her with large baking jobs that sometimes take six hours just to bake – not to mention the need for the dough to stand for 24 hours beforehand.
Ube crinkle cookies are a food trend in the Philippines. Amon first learned to make them during quarantine.
As the collaboration grows, Amon plans to continue specializing in baking, while Son will focus on cooking the main dishes. Son says she will start with Cambodian dishes, but she is interested in learning how to cook Filipino food in a way that does it justice. “I want to give [the food] the greatest respect, ”she explains. “I want to prepare 100 percent authentic dishes.”
At the same time, none of the chefs is afraid to try something new. For example, Son says Num Pang, a Cambodian sandwich, will likely be on the menu for one of the upcoming Sunday meals. Similar to Vietnamese Banh Mi, Son’s Cambodian version is made from beef marinated with lemongrass, topped with cucumber, pickled daikon, carrots, Thai basil, spring onions and garlic aioli. “It’s more modern and aimed at younger people,” she says. But it still retains the essence of the place it came from.
“This food comes from meals my family would prepare at home,” continues Amon. “These are just things we feel at home.”
If all goes well with the monthly meal deal, the duo will have additional pop-ups year-round, potentially upgrading to a food truck and hopefully one day a stationary restaurant. To follow her work, visit @ChefPannah and @LarizasBakery on Instagram. And watch out for the next meal deal that is likely to sell out quickly.
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Claire Duncombe is a journalist, photographer, multimedia storyteller and musician. As an intern at Westword, she is a graduate of CU Denver and a proud Philadelphia native.