When dining al fresco, Cambodians may sit like children


Your first encounter with streetside dining in Cambodia may well produce a smile and a puzzled expression. It did mine.

You’ll see grown men and women perched on plastic plastic stools and chairs of a size that fits small children along with appropriately scaled tables.

In New York City and elsewhere, the eateries might be called pop-up restaurants. Here, they are portable enterprises in which entrepreneurial cooks scrape up a living.  To the vendors who provide the seating and tables, their use makes sense.


This image and the one below obviously have nothing to do with food, but it shows how evidently comfortable Cambodians are with minute support for seating such as a brick.  Sometimes, they slip off their flip-flops and sit on them.  Otherwise, they may simply prefer to squat whether working with tools, waiting for buyers in the teeming markets or playing improvised board games.  

img_3576What could make more sense than resorting to miniature seats and tables that easily can be picked up, stacked and moved.  They occupy sidewalks and sometimes streets that must be vacated at least daily. In addition, vendors specializing in breakfasts may well have to cede a place for those selling lunch or dinner by amicable pre-arrangement.


Food vendors ring Wat Botum Park, where Cambodians gather evenings for a range of activities such as group dancing, rollerblading, family or solo dining and flirting.

How claims are made to selling space eludes me, but it is a system I have noted in other countries of Southeast Asia — for example in Thailand, where I have noted at least three changes of a day in the center of Bangkok.

(Standards of hygiene are believed to be higher than in Thailand than in Cambodia.  On the occasions I have indulged myself in street food in both nations, my stomach has only celebrated its contents even though implements and dishes are washed and rinsed in buckets with water that seems to be changed irregularly.)

vendorWhenever time is up, they scramble to pile everything magically — raw food, cooking implements, dining utensils, plates, glasses, heat sources and beverages — on carts that either are secured nearby or dragged or pushed elsewhere, perhaps home.

To me, the effort with which the restaurants are opened is testament not only, of course, to the owners’ pressing need to earn a living but also to their energy, spirit and resourcefulness.

I mean it when I choose to say Happy Holidays.

See you again in the New Year.

Email: malcolmncarter@gmail.com


3 thoughts on “When dining al fresco, Cambodians may sit like children

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