29 March 2008

Cambodia: Lost pastrami of Angkor

It isn't often anyone writes about Jews and Cambodia in one paragraph, particularly one dating from 1603, but here it is.

In 1603, then Brother Gabriel de San Antonio, in "A Brief and Truthful Relation of Events in the Kingdom of Cambodia" to King Don Philippe, wrote: "at the entrance to the road, (in the same way as we Christians erect crosses) Cambodian people erect high poles at the top of which is a golden snake. They all worship it; their criminals put themselves under its protection and it constitutes a sacred place. If they have a dispute between themselves and they want to contract a new friendship, they bleed, mix their blood in the same vessel and drink it, each one in his turn; then they dip a knife in it, keep it raised, and through ceremony, promise to be of the same blood, to have only one heart and one will, threatening with the knife anybody who would claim to the contrary. That practice, and the custom of putting snakes on the top of masts along the roads as well as that of the monks chanting the chorus seven times originates from some roman Jews who once lived in that kingdom. There are many Jews in the kingdom of china: they are the ones who built, in Cambodia, the city of Angkor which, as I said, was discovered in 1570. They abandoned it when they emigrated to china, according to what the Jews from the East Indies told me when, passing through there, I conversed with them about that matter."

Who knew?

The blog's author asks if this was the last time a good pastrami sandwich could be had in Cambodia - where he lives with his wife and baby girl named Aliyah - and proceeds to expound on Venezuela's Chavez, on a possible Khazar connection and a bit about his own family history:

While the rest of my geneology is a bit obscure (the mid-19th century Mudricks did hail from Byrdichiv in the former Khazaria but I know nothing earlier), the Shapiro line (my mother's father's side) is quite well researched. Indeed, Shapiro is one of two dozen family names whose ancestors researchers believe can be traced directly back to King David.

The genealogy of pastrami is featured with this link:

Where does pastrami come from? Is it even a "Jewish" food? Like a lot of food we identify as Jewish, pastrami is a food that was adopted by Jews and has gone through a radical transformation in the immigration process. Originally, Romanian Jews brought the idea of pastrami with them when they came to the US. In Moldavia pastrama is usually a cured, semi-dry smoked meat, usually made from sheep, that can stay unrefrigerated for months. Jews possibly cured their own kosher pastrama as a food that could be carried along on trips where no kosher meat would be available, kind of like kosher beef jerky - chewing on old truck tires is one way to describe the texture for Moldavian peasant pastrama...But the origina of Romanian pastrama lie in the heritage of the Ottoman Empire,which ruled Wallachia and Moldavia for hundreds of rather productive years, at least as far as Wallachia and Moldavia go. The Turks brought pastirma with them - slabs of beef covered in spice paste and then air dried in high mountain curing houses.

The pastrami link could be titled "Everything You've Always Wanted to Ask About Pastrami and Now You're Glad You Didn't Ask."


  1. Anonymous8:56 AM

    For pastrami try Cafe Fresco. This could also be of interest, http://detailsaresketchy.wordpress.com/2006/11/28/a-cambodian-rabbi/, about a Cambodian rabbi.

  2. I didn't know Fresco had a pastrami. I"ll have to give it a try. The Chavez I referenced in my post has nothing to do with the Venezuelan Chavez by the way.

  3. Anonymous2:54 AM

    Hi! I'm moving to Phnom Penh in July. Does anyone know of a group who celebrates the holidays over there? Would be great to know about it :-)