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One of the Best New Restaurants in America Is Chef Nite Yun’s Nyum Bai — Cooking in America


– So when I heard that
we were going to Oakland, there was one spot that I wanted to go, and this is the spot. We’ll be meeting Chef Nite Yun, who is taking us back to the
golden years of Cambodia, cooking the food that she grew up eating and sharing it with all of Oakland. – So today, we’re gonna
make kuy teav Phnom Penh, which is like a noodle soup dish, a pork belly dish called prahok ktiss. – You saying pork belly is
straight to my heart already. (acoustic guitar) – So people like to ask if
Cambodian food is similar to Thai or Vietnamese. There’s an overlap in ingredients, but the overall flavors and
dishes are quite different. We eat a lot of paste to go
with the fresh ingredients, and there’s always a
contrast in the texture with funkiness and raw veggies. But then it varies too, because
you have the countryside where they do a lot of stews
and if you go to the city, you’ll find soups like this. But most of the dishes here are food that I grew up eating. Nyum Bai translates to “eat rice”, but it’s also a phrase
that my mom would say, forcing them to go eat,
like “Come here! Nyum bai!” – Yeah, yeah. (Nite laughs) – That’s her way of making
people feel comfortable is through food, so it’s like, just come eat. We’re gonna make my favorite dish ever. It’s a classic Cambodian
dish called prahok ktiss, and it’s essential that we use pork belly because you want the
fat to be cooked down, and it creates this, I don’t
know, really delicious– – Magical. – Yeah. So here’s the prahok ktiss. It has a very funky smell. – So it’s a fermented fish paste? – It’s fermented fish paste. We use this in a lot of
Cambodian cooking, the prahok. And then, kroeung, what you see here. It’s a lemongrass paste. It’s two of the most important
ingredients in cooking Cambodian food. We want to add the lemongrass,
red chile, fish paste. – [Sheldon] Oh, it’s so fragrant. – Yeah, this is the winning combination. (brass instruments with beat) I grew up in the kitchen with my mom. We lived in a one bedroom apartment, so I was always in the kitchen, not necessarily wanting
to learn how to cook, but because I really didn’t
have anywhere else to go. (both laugh) Pork belly. This is tamarind powder. Gonna add some tamarind powder. Sugar. Yup, and then you add the coconut milk, some bird eye chiles. You like spicy food? – Yeah. – Okay, so I’m gonna add two more. When you cook in Cambodia, you have to go the store every morning because most homes, like
my cousins and grandma, they didn’t have refrigerators. So every morning, we would
wake up before six o’clock, go to the market. If we were to cook chicken in Cambodia, we would kill it that same
day so it’s very fresh. Some cucumbers, carrots, cabbage wedge. Here you have it, prahok ktiss. – Prahok ktiss. What did mom think when you
said you’re gonna open up a Cambodian restaurant? – She didn’t understand
what a pop-up was either, and so I tried to explain
to her what it was. “Well, mom, you had people come over, “and sold food from our house, “so essentially, it’s
kinda the same thing.” – Yeah, yeah. Wait, wait, sell food from the house? – Yeah, so my mom would
actually turn our house into a gambling house, like a saloon, so she can collect tips. She would call people that
she knows that would make food from the house to come sell food. There’s the fried chicken lady, and then there’s this
lady, the papaya lady, where she could basically
converted her van and turned it into a papaya salad station. – I’d choose papaya salad
over ice cream any day. – Oh my gosh, so good. So what we’re making is
called kuy teav phnom penh. Kuy teav means noodle,
and then Phnom Penh is the capital in Cambodia. It’s traditionally eaten for breakfast, so if you were to be in the capital, you’ll see it in all corners. So just sit down, order one bowl, they’ll give you a bowl for 25 cents, and it’s the best meal ever. – There must be a ton of
different noodle dishes in Cambodia. Why did you choose this one? – It’s a dish that my mom would
make for me and my friends, and this is also the
dish that inspired me to start Nyum Bai, just
because people know so much about ramen, and Vietnamese pho, but no one really knows anything about the Cambodian soup kuy teav Phnom Penh. Especially here in the Bay Area, there’s so many different
types of cuisine, but yet Cambodian food
is underrepresented. So the broth usually takes
about six hours to make, just because you need to
extract all the flavors from the bones and all
the other ingredients. So I prefer to use pork neck bones, but sometimes at the butcher
they don’t have that available. So it looks like this batch is the feet? The leg? Yeah, the knuckles? You do wanna char the onion
’til it’s completely black and sticky like this. Drop it in the broth, daikon. And this is pickled radish. And then this is dried calamari. – Okay, nice. Dried squid. – Yup, dried squid. We put fish sauce, sugar, and some salt. (Cambodian rock and roll) – A lot of people don’t really
know the history of Cambodia or they have only certain
things that they associate Cambodia with. – If people know anything about Cambodia, it’s the genocide or the Angkor Wat, but Cambodia has such a beautiful history. During the ’50s and ’60s was
a prosperous time in Cambodia, where the music was happening,
artists were everywhere. This was also the time
where my parents grew up. That time was taken away
from them because of the war, and so in essence, this
is like a time capsule of the golden era. So it’s an homage to their youth. – This is a dish that kind of encompasses what Nyum Bai is. – Basically, yeah. – First taste. That’s amazing. That has all the best
things of what a bowl of soup and noodles you want. Perfect salty to sweet, even with all of those
different flavors that’s coming it’s just so warming. How can you not want to
share this with everybody? (both laugh) Tell me about the area that you visited when you were up there. – So I stayed in the countryside. It was a village where
everyone knows each other. You would have to bathe outside because there’s no actual bathroom. And then you start your
day by going to the market. My first visit to Cambodia,
I stayed with my grandmother in Battambang. That’s the countryside of Cambodia. She’s one badass lady. She was definitely ahead of her time, making trades, loaning people
money, collecting interest. Everyone was scared of her. When I would go to the market, and they would say, “Be careful,” or “Give her the best
price, or her grandma “will come out and get you.” I knew that my mom had a
really strict upbringing, but I didn’t know how strict. I remember this one occasion, probably two o’clock in the afternoon, she literally locked up all the gates, closed the windows, shut the blinds, and locked me in a room
so I couldn’t go anywhere. That’s how strict she was. – Get that hustle from grandma. (upbeat jazz) – So this right here is a good example of a classic Cambodian dish. Take a bite of your chile. – Oh! – Oh my gosh! (Sheldon coughs) (Nite laughs) – You talk about that funk
but it’s carried on by the fattiness of the
pork and the coconut milk kinda brings everything together. – Right, uh-huh. – Do you feel some type of responsibility about Cambodian cuisine? – I feel like I do, because there’s not a lot
of Cambodian restaurants or a lot of Cambodian chefs. But slowly, like we have first generation, second generation Cambodians,
that are reconnecting with their roots again through food. – ‘Cause in the ’50s and ’60s,
Cambodia was popppin’ right? – Yeah, oh my gosh. It was a cool time. If I could go back in time, I would live during that era. – Right, and just because of
that history that followed, a lot of your parents’
generation don’t talk about those golden years? – It’s forgotten, because
it’s just taken over by something so traumatic. My parents would always
repress their stories about the genocide. My mom’s eyes would already
get watery every time I bring up the subject. And so a better way for
the younger generations to understand their history, or to reconnect with their roots, I feel like they need a
safe place to express that. Let’s say they bring their parents in, and they can bring up
the topic over a meal. “Mom, did you eat this
when you were young?” Hoping that the conversation
of healing or reconnecting would happen organically just over food, because once we eat certain flavors, it strikes a certain memory, right? So it’s a segue to start healing. – You put your soul into this. How do you say cheers? – Chôl muŏy! – Chôl muŏy! – Chôl muŏy! (Nite laughs) – Rock and roll, let’s go right now. (Cambodian rock and roll) Oh, okay. (noodle flops) (Sheldon laughs) Okay, maybe a couple more years.

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