Meant to be another trip took on a different turn for Meng Jing. First flights delayed then cancelled, she is one of many unfortunate travelers stranded during a worldwide pandemic.
Left in a foreign country she was visiting for the first time. Within a few months, she decides to join locals and expats sharing her love Chinese gastronomy. Slowly yet steadily becoming an advocate for Chinese culture in a small town in Cambodia.
Meng described her journey of her reconversion in Kampot to Khmer Times’ Marie Lamy.
In her mid-thirties now, Meng said be started out by working as an English teacher in Kunming for some years and lives a regular life. However, she said working at ‘9 to 5’ job did not sit well with her.
“Everything was mundane, I was not waking up excited about my life,” she says. Describing herself as a “free spirit,” she then decided to be self-employed. At first, with no precise direction, she spent countless hours cooking in her home located in the rural areas of Dali,
Meng enjoyed experimenting underneath the multiple layers of traditional Chinese cuisine.
The idea of sharing with others her passion for food was without doubt her new ambition. A self-taught cook with 10 years of experience, Meng earned a living from playing gigs in bars in town, and providing cooking lessons for guests seeking one-to-one sessions. Up pops a kitchen, workshops and the creation of homemade brand dubbed “Miss Saucy” which brought her some notoriety in her home city of Dali.
Fast forward to January this year and after spending one month travelling in Thailand and Malaysia, Meng was told by a friend that visiting the Kingdom of Wonders was an absolute must while travelling in Southeast Asia.
After spending one night in Phnom Penh, she set out to meet her friends in Kampot, a province where she had only heard the name of before.
Kampot, once Cambodia’s main port, and now dubbed a “sleepy town”, surrounds the Prek Chhou River, where it is not rare to see residents enjoy a swim on hot days.
While she was spending time there, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, affecting flight fares to China
“At first when I arrived in Kampot, I didn’t expect to be stranded here, flights became crazily expensive and I could not afford to return to China,” she says.
Taking this opportunity to extend her vacation further, Meng found an opportunity to experiment more on her cooking in her free time with new friends from diverse cultures in a new environment.
“I started cooking for a friend I met here in Kampot. Most people know typical Chinese dishes, fried rice and fried noodles but I wanted to introduce other dishes which are lesser known, yet delicious,” she says. Through word of mouth, a crowd grew enthusiastic for Meng’s special ‘Ròu Jiā Mò,’ known in the west as Chinese burgers, and other delicacies.
Lucia Mendez, 39, a vegan cheese maker based in Kampot, told Khmer Times, Meng’s dishes were not only a surprise but also an exciting experience she is looking forward to weekly. Vegan for many years now, Lucia admires Meng’s inclusivity in proposing meat alternatives to certain dishes.
“She cares a lot for vegan foodies. For me, her food is happiness on a plate and my taste buds love it every time,” she says.
Mendez adds that Meng’s cuisine is in her top-three Kampot food venues.
With positive feedback from many, Meng says it encourages her to promote Chinese gastronomy outside China.
“Many were surprised to taste something different from typical Chinese food. The support is overwhelming so far. People enjoyed what I made and it encouraged me to continue sharing a tiny part of Chinese culture with them in Kampot,” she adds.
When asked about future plans ahead, she admits thinking to visit Phnom Penh and wanting to travel to other provinces. “Phnom Penh is lively and it would be interesting to explore this culinary experience for people who enjoy good food.”