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.
What 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.
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.)
Whenever 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.