This Saturday the 25th of January marked a special day for the Scots in my life, Phnom Penh, and across the globe: Burns Day.
To celebrate this honored date, Little Kitchen– Cooking for Change partnered up with a few good lads to host a memorable evening in honor of Robert Burns for the first time in the Charming City. Little Kitchen provides a monthly culinary event that brings people together who share a love for food, interaction, and education while supporting social and humanitarian activities in the local Cambodian community. Held at Meta House, each event is devoted to a particular country or region’s cuisine along with presentations and on some occasions, performances.
I’ve attended a few Little Kitchen events in the past year, but I must say, Burns Night was by far the most memorable and will be something to look forward to next year. While only seventy tickets were available for sale for the event due to space, there were requests for more than 180! For more information on Robert Burns/Burns Day/Night/Supper, take a look at the fantastic flyer that uber-talented artist and designer David Pinho put together with the help of Ritchie for the event. As you’ll see, almost everything is printed in both Scottish and English, aye– there is a difference!
The menu boasted traditional Scottish fare; of course Haggis (vegetarian option available as well), Neeps & Tatties, cabbage and bacon, some belter soup that I don’t know the name of, whisky sauce, and Bread and Butter Pudding with whisky and marmalade. Johnnie Walker was generous enough to sponsor the event and get more than a few people in a jolly mood while master chef Dan Beck cooked for all seventy guests for over eight hours straight (after a night of DJing until 4am- now that’s something I for sure could never pull off)! Each dish had an expert hand behind it and the flavors were rich and hearty- just what I imagined a Scot’s meal consisting of.
The energy of the night immediately felt like it had a higher charge than others I’ve been to. Excitement exuded from guests, many Scotsmen and Scot…ladies (?) eager to be connecting in a city so small, but sometimes so distant between groups were able to unite celebrating a date so important in their history. Anyone else seemed to feel like they were looking in on something private, almost sacred.
After a beautiful performance from Rithy from Cambodian Living Arts (the organization Little Kitchen was supporting that evening), the sound of bagpipes began to play from overhead. After a few wee moments of bated breath, a kilted, Sporran-donning man (thank you Paul!) stalked down the aisle between eager eyes with a platter of, what else? Haggis. As the music died down, the audience waited eagerly for Burns’ poem, “The Address to the Haggis”. What followed was not only unexpected, but pure goose-bump raising, laugh-inducing, and made everyone in the room wish they were Scottish (as James was eager to point out after his speech).
James’ energy as he addresses the Haggis brought to mind a bit of the pre-battle speeches of Braveheart, the passion behind his words in the famous poetry of Robert (Rabbie) Burns was immaculate and to add to the reading, came theatrics that totally engrossed the audience.
Once the address had finished ending in uproarious applause and howls of praise, the feast commenced. Served buffet style by helpful hands (thanks Duncan!) to hungry and excited guests who probably needed some good starchy foods after a few whiskys, even those who were wary to try the Haggis were impressed.
*Haggis is a savory pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs minced with onion, oats, suet, spices, salt, and mixed with stock. Usually cased in a sheep stomach, for Little Kitchen they opted for sausage casing and a more “casserole” style offering.
As people dined, well known Phnom Penh Celtic band (with an international twist) Kheltica played tunes that would get even the most serious of guests wanting to get down and cèilidh (Scottish dance). To end their set, they played The Proclaimers “I Would Walk 500 Miles” which truly had everyone in a raucous, dafty mood- with or without a bit of Johnnie Walker in their bellies.
To have experienced my first Burns Night and supper, along with other first-timers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is something I would not have expected in a hundred years. But if there’s one thing I came away from, it’s that after an event like that- we all really should want to be a bit Scottish at heart.
*special thanks to Angus for the video
*MORE special thanks to Linda Milk for Film Noir Studios for the photos