Palm Wine

It’s not Sra (liquor), it’s Mera (the slightly less alcoholic version). Both are forbidden to precept holders. But in the dry season, what else are you going to do?

The always excellent Phnomenon has just blogged a short piece about Palm Sap. It is indeed hard to get good palm sap (or palm wine, which is the same thing after a few hours) in the city – it doesn’t take long for the wine to turn into vinegar. [link]

I remember sitting in a house in Kompong Thom province in the dry season, drinking bowl after bowl of the stuff, just after a breakfast of rice porridge. This was apparently a normal routine in the household (for the men), though I think that they were enjoying testing me to see how much the enormous white guy could put away compared to their own seasoned selves.

There’s a nationalist myth that the Sugar Palm, which provides so much to the Khmer, cannot exist outside of lands controlled by the Khmer. While obviously a bit of a myth, it’s been expanded to a very concrete statement that you will hear quite commonly when the Sugar Palm comes up in conversation. The claim is that the minute you cross the border into Vietnam, you will cease seeing Sugar Palms. And although not strictly  true, it has to be admitted that a cursory observation from roadside (into HCMC) did not turn up many sugar palms at all.


2 thoughts on “Palm Wine

  1. I’ve literally chased down the palm wine guys on my motorbike in Phnom Penh to get some fresh sap but as soon as I say that something is tough to find, a guy will cycle past selling it.

    I hadn’t heard that myth before but it’s extremely interesting. I wonder if the lack of palms across the border is because growing rice in Vietnam is more lucrative than in Cambodia.

  2. Erik says:

    …as soon as I say that something is tough to find, a guy will cycle past selling it.

    Ain’t that the truth.

    The whole issue of nationhood and trees for the Khmer Krom is rather fraught. You may also have heard the story of Okhna (or Chauvay) Son Kuy, the territorial leader of Preah Trapeang (Tra Vinh) in what is now Vietnam. He is supposed to have taken a felled tree and planted it upside down, declaring that if Khmer culture (or Khmer Buddhism, depending on the teller) would survive, it would be proved by the tree growing roots and surviving. It did, and in fact that tree is still visible in Preah Trapeang today. I haven’t been myself, but it is possible to buy postcards of the tree in Phnom Penh if you ask around discreetly. I wish I’d thought to buy one myself while I was there. I can’t even find a photo of the tree on the internet!

    Your thought on the relatively lucrative cash-cropping of rice in Vietnam, as opposed to the multi-use subsistence approach in Cambodia, which depends as you noted in your post on the various uses of the palm, is thoughtful. It would be interesting to study this in conversation with Vietnamese farmers or agronomists in the region.

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