¡Ask a Comida Critic! Why No Cambodian Food in OC?

¡Ask a Comida Critic! Why No Cambodian Food in OC?

From a reader via email:

I'm a Cambodian who grew up in Santa Ana, went to Century High and learned to love Mexicans like my family. They always treated me to great taquerias around town (I LOVE Tapatia!), but I could never treat them to my cuisine except some dishes at Royal Capital in Garden Grove. The Cambodian community in OC is big--maybe not as much as Long Beach, but we're around ESPECIALLY in Santa Ana. What's up with that?

Ah, the Cambodian culinary conundrum--not as infuriating as the Colombian or Zacatecan one, but still annoying.

The number of Cambodians in Orange County isn't massive--a bit more than 4,000 according to the last U.S. Census, and the number will have probably dropped as Cambodians have moved from their traditional landing ground of Minnie Street in SanTana, one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, toward other places in the county or for Long Beach. But the concentration is enough in SanTana that you'd expect at least one entrepreneur over the years to open a place.

But it's never happened. I remember attending a UC Irvine doctorate course in urban planning years ago where a student did an in-depth study of the Minnie Street community. He asked them why there were no businesses catering to them besides the non-profit Cambodian Family, and the replies were expected: traumatized refugees, immigrants still learning how to navigate business laws, and no need for businesses when Little Phnom Phem was just down the 22 Freeway in Long Beach. The grad student did report that there used to be a produce truck that stocked Cambodian products, but it hadn't been around for years.

The closest you'll find to Cambodian food besides Royal Capital (which, honestly, is Cambodian only in the Khmer writing on the windows and some dishes) is the wonderful Cambinos BBQ in Cypress. Even this isn't really Cambodian save for the love of meat, the astringently addictive flavors and that one of the owners, James Sar, is Cambodian (his wife is Filipina). Calling all Cambodians to open a place here in OC!

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