Thalias Hospitality

Malis & the Goddess of Flowers

From great devotion comes great art Wandering through the halls and pathways of Angkor Wat, taking in the overwhelming magnificence and minute detail of the statues, sculptures, reliefs, and friezes of the largest religious structure on earth; close examination demonstrates that remarkably, almost every surface is treated and carved with narrative or decorative details. Angkor wat was designed and built in such a way so as to be in harmony with the universe, planned according to the rising sun and moon, symbolizing recurrent time sequences. The central axis aligns with the planets, connecting the structure to the cosmos so that the temple becomes a spiritual, political, cosmological, astronomical and geophysical center, a mandala -a diagram of the universe. One begins to meditate on the other magnificent art forms and craftsmanship that must have existed in the community at this time. The costumes, the finery, jewelry, paintings, music, and of course dance. We can only imagine because unlike stone’s ability to resist the jungle and endure the forces of nature and last for millennia, much of the fine arts and refined culture of the Khmer empire has been lost to history. Freedom of Expression When Cambodia gained independence from French administration in 1953 it enjoyed a brief, glorious period of optimism and cultural expression, with the royal family now in Phnom Penh, the city became a celebrated center for the arts and this was a time that saw the emergence of a new, modern and distinctly Khmer art scene. Yet again, much of our knowledge of this would also be lost in the ensuing Khmer Rouge genocide. Luu Meng is Cambodia’s most celebrated chef, his mother had run a bahn chao (thin, savoury omelettes) shop on Sothearos boulevard and his grandmother had worked as a cook in the Royal Palace before opening her own restaurant. When he was just three years old Meng and his family were forced to flee Cambodia to a U.N.-operated refugee camp in Thailand. Meng’s family survived the Khmer Rouge by following his grandfather’s advice to stay near the water. Meng’s grandfather had previously fled Mao Zedong’s regime in China to settle in Phnom Penh. Meng was eventually able to return to Phnom Penh and in 1993 started working at the Sofitel Cambodiana as a trainee cook, becoming a sous chef in 1995. Later Meng worked as an executive chef for the Sunway Hotel. In 2001 he worked for Sofitel in Siem Reap. In the mid-2000’s, together with his old Sofitel colleague Arnaud Darc, Luu Meng opened “Malis”, the first Cambodian fine dining restaurant in Phnom Penh. When Malis, (which means Jasmine in English) opened, it was not just a matter of merely opening the doors and rolling out the classic dishes. Chef Luu Meng had to rediscover and redefine a lost cuisine and restore a nation’s pride and respect in its finest foods, its reputation with its produce, and the dignity of its hospitality. Meng became part chef, part food detective -more ‘recipe raider than tomb raider- he would travel the width and breadth of the country seeking out cooks, ingredients, recipes, and techniques; listening, sampling, learning, and then training his team of chefs, imbuing them with more than the practical elements of a dish, also sharing the stories, legends and details about the people behind them, filling his team with pride at being able to bring these dishes back to life and share them once again with locals and with visitors from around the world. Ten successful years later the Thalias Group opened its second Malis restaurant in Siem Reap, on the 1st of February, 2016 sharing its living Cambodian cuisine with the millions of foreign tourists who visit the temples each year. The new, white, and silver building on the riverside is a monolithic structure inspired by the Prasat Kravan, a 10th century Angkor temple south of the Srah Srang Baray. From the outside, it has the imposing air of a palace or a state building, inside it is all food temple, a statement, and an offering of Cambodian cuisine and hospitality restored and recreated in all its glory. Chef Meng calls his cuisine ‘Living Cambodian Cuisine’ and not traditional Khmer food, he accepts that the cuisine today has been influenced by its neighbours in the region and is a cuisine that is constantly being refined, evolving, and emerging, it is a cuisine not solely of its history but also of its present and future. The Royal Ballet of Cambodia As far back as the 7th century, there is a record of Cambodian dance performed as part of the funeral rites of Khmer Kings. Temple dancers came to be recognized as ‘apsaras’, a type of female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist culture, they were seen as both entertainers and messengers to divinities. Ancient inscriptions describe thousands of apsara performing divine rites at temples; when Angkor fell to the Siamese, its artisans, Brahmins, and dancers were taken captive and removed to Ayutthaya. Dancers of the court of King Sisowath were exhibited at the 1906 Colonial Exposition in Marseilles, France at the suggestion of George Bois, a French representative in the Cambodian court. The artist Auguste Rodin was captivated by the dancers and painted a series of watercolors on them. Post-independence, Cambodia Queen Sisowath Kossamak became a patron of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and under her guidance, several reforms were made to the royal ballet, including choreography, dramas were also shortened from all-night spectacles to around one hour in length. Prince Norodom Sihanouk featured dances of the royal ballet in his films. The Cambodian dance tradition was devastated during the terrifying reign of the Khmer Rouge; it is estimated that ninety percent of all of Cambodia’s classical artists were murdered or perished between 1975 and 1979. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, those who did survive wandered out from hiding, found one another, and formed “colonies” in order to revive their sacred traditions. Khmer classical dance training was … Read more