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    Chinese Restaurants circa 1100 AD in the Khmer empire?

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | August 16, 2010

    Chinese restaurants have a long history. And perhaps one of the earliest recorded instances are found on the walls of the Bayon Temple within the Angor Thom complex in Cambodia (It’s one of the complexes within the Angor Wat area). Bayon was built in the late 1100s or early 1200s century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. The carvings capture many elements of daily life of the Khmer empire around that era — including marketings, cock fighting, wrestling, and Chinese restaurants. Below is a market scene with a merchant who is selling fish.

    The Chinese had a long history of being in Cambodia dating back to the 900s AD (the most famous account of Cambodian life is from Zhou Daguan, a Chinese emissary that went to Cambodia around 1296 and recorded his tale). The Chinese presence is captured in the carvings at Bayon.

    The Chinese look distinctive from the Khmer in that they  beards, short earlobes and thin lips. In contrast, the native Khmer are depicted with long earlobes, thick lips and no beards. Several scenes show Chinese warriors fighting alongside the Khmer against their mortal enemies, the Cham. (Tour guide said Chinese people always get excited when they see that). Below is a cockfighting scene, note the differences between the Khmer on the left and the Chinese on the right.

    There are a number of places along the wall where the Chinese appear. Here is an example where they appear to be in battle.

    But one of the scenes distinctly shows Chinese people cooking under a roof — a Chinese restaurant. You can see the Chinese faces cooking in pots and then other Chinese, customers presumably.

    I had heard about these carvings in my research for the book, but had not seen them until now.

    It’s funny listening to the tour guides go by talking about that scene in all different languages. “Restaurante Chino,” “Restaurant Chinois,” etc. and all the tourists nod in understanding because Chinese restaurants are everywhere.

    Topics: Chinese Food, Chinese Restaurants | No Comments »

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